State Board of Education makes changes to graduation requirements for class of 2020

Students prepare to receive diplomas at a recent Durham Public Schools’ graduation.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s doubtful high school seniors will don caps and gowns for graduation ceremonies this spring.

But the State Board of Education (SBE) has made earning a diploma easier by adopting policy  adjustments Friday relaxing graduation requirements.

Under the adjustments, districts and school systems can’t require seniors to earn more than 22 credits to graduate. Some districts require more than the state’s 22-credit minimum to earn a diploma.

“We are focusing on the minimum 22 State Board of Education requirements,” said Sneha Shah Coltrane, the state’s director of advanced learning and gifted education. “If there is availability and the school is able to do that [provide more than the minimum] and the senior is able to do other requirements, wonderful. However, for graduation purposes, we want to ensure that we are focused on the 22 [minimum requirement] to leap these students forward to their incredible futures.”

Seniors won’t have to fret over grades, either, particularly if they did well in the fall. Those grades will count toward GPAs.

Grades for spring courses will be pass or withdraw if students were failing a course on March 13, the last day students attended North Carolina schools before they were closed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Districts must provide remote learning opportunities to help students failing a course earn a “pass” designation.

In addition to remote learning, students may also meet graduation requirements through the N.C. Virtual Public School, a credit recovery program or by passing a locally developed assessment based on course material covered through March 13.

Evaluating students in grades K-11

The board also issued guidance for grading students engaged in remote learning.

Teachers may only evaluate students in grades K-5 or assign grades to students in grades 6-11 if there is equitable access to technology, consistent communication between teachers and students and evidence that students are learning.

SBE member Olivia Oxendine asked for clarity about when teachers can assign grades based on remote learning activities in grades K-5.

“If a classroom teacher determines that one or two students are having extraordinary challenges taking part in online instruction … would that constitute the teacher’s decision not to assign grades?” Oxendine asked.

Coltrane responded: “Yes, for a simple answer. The idea that there is no permanent comparison done among the students when equity is not there.”

School funding flexibility 

The SBE approved a formula to divvy up $50 million in funding flexibility approved by Gov. Roy Cooper this week.

Under the formula, $25 million will be distributed to districts or schools based on enrollment. The other $25 million will be based a district’s or school’s low-wealth status or number of poor students enrolled.

The funding is intended to help districts serve students during the COVID-19 crisis. Money may be spent on school nutrition, school-and community-based childcare, cleaning and sanitizing schools and buses, protective equipment and remote learning opportunities.

The $50 million is comprised of unused funds from the current and previous school year and the State Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund.

Emergency leave policy  

The SBE also adopted an emergency leave policy to allow districts to continue to pay and provide benefits to workers who cannot work remotely, who cannot work due to childcare or eldercare needs.

The policy provides up to 168 hours of paid leave between April 1 through April 30.

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