Like dozens of other school districts around Washington state, Seattle Public Schools has begun seeking waivers for some seniors who haven’t met all state credit requirements to graduate amid coronavirus closures.
The district will also waive some of its own local requirements for graduation, such as community service and career and technical education coursework. The Seattle School Board unanimously approved a resolution in support of these measures at its meeting on Wednesday.
Schools will request state credit waivers on a case-by-case basis, and only when the district has exhausted all other options to help students recover the credits, including through summer school. The state will only approve waivers as a last resort because of concerns that students could graduate without critical coursework or skills.
Along with a new grading policy to award high school students either an “A” or “incomplete” for their work this spring, the district says it is trying to shield students from being penalized for circumstances beyond their control — such as a lack of access to technology — during the closures.
“We will encourage them to stay engaged in learning so they are not behind in their schooling,” said Diane DeBacker, the district’s chief academic officer.
Earlier this month, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a set of emergency rules giving school districts power to waive seniors’ required course credits, including those for elective classes and core classes such as math and English.
The action follows a promise to high school seniors from top state officials: If you were on track to graduate before schools shut down due to the coronavirus, you won’t be penalized.
By April 23, the State Board approved waivers for students across more than half of the state’s 300 school districts, including Seattle. To be successful, districts must demonstrate that they made a good effort to help a student gain the credits before applying for the waiver.
They also must submit their waivers for each student — not in batches. The state has decided to issue general waivers for Washington state history and physical education requirements.
DeBacker said school counselors are in the process of analyzing each senior’s transcript to see who is eligible.
“It is time-intensive — no getting around it,” she said. The district estimates “a few hundred” of the district’s 4,000 seniors will need the waivers to graduate in June.
The waivers also won’t work in every circumstance, said DeBacker. For example: if a student needs reprieve from a core subject requirement such as “Language Arts 12,” they must demonstrate they’ve taken a similar course or elective, such as African American literature, to take its place.
Because the waiver process is heavily based on school-level decisions, the district says it doesn’t have centralized data on how many students qualify for the waiver yet. Officials were only able to analyze how many students had the appropriate number of credits to graduate, not the appropriate type.
They suspect that 12th year Language Arts and U.S. Government are the classes students need waived the most.
As of mid-March, there were just over 4,000 high school seniors enrolled in SPS. More than half, about 2,700, had already earned at least 21 credits, enough to meet credit number requirements to graduate. About 700 students had at least 18 credits, but less than 21, “meaning that if they passed their courses this semester, they would have enough credits to graduate,” according to School Board documents.
Over 400 students had fewer than 18 credits and would need to recover credits in order to graduate in June.