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Graduation Requirements Unclear, Say High School Seniors

School facade
A school in Richmond. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Virginia Department of Education is giving local school districts flexibility to waive some graduation requirements for high school seniors. This comes after Governor Ralph Northam closed K-12 schools for the rest of the academic year. 

In a briefing Tuesday, Governor Northam said he knows the community understands the move to close schools was necessary, but added that doesn’t make the change any less painful.

“We have students who miss their classmates and teachers. Teachers who miss their students,” Northam said. “And high school seniors who are facing their last semester of school with no prom. No graduation ceremony. None of the rites of passage that should mark these big changes.”

The Virginia Department of Education provided guidance to school districts Monday night about a number of credit-based graduation requirements that can be waived for seniors, for classes like history, economics, and fine arts. Other requirements, like emergency first aid, and certain hands-on training will require action from lawmakers in order to be waived.

Still, some high school seniors like Eileen Morley are seeking additional clarity on what will be expected of them between now and summer. 

“I feel like guidance should be in quotes because there really hasn’t been a lot of it,” Morley said. “I feel like every teacher, at Maggie Walker at least, is doing their own thing. Some teachers aren’t giving me any information, some are giving me way too much...so I really wish there was a set plan for something like this.”

Ethan Spradlin is a senior at William Byrd High School in Roanoke and says he’d been studying for AP exams. Now, he’s at a loss for what to do, and is concerned about his plans to attend college next year as well.

“Now I’m just not exactly sure what my plans are,” Spradlin said. “I don’t know if the college that I’ll choose is going to have a fall semester.”

For rising seniors, and younger students, the picture is less clear. School divisions have been instructed to figure out what required content students will have missed out on between March 13th and the end of the school year. Then, schools will have to develop lessons to make sure students learn that material now, or later on. 

VPM intern Alex Broening contributed reporting to this story.