Seniors who didn't pass exit exam could be allowed to march in graduations

School board to consider rule change after outcry from students, parents

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMay 21, 2014 

STOCK

Forty-five seconds -- that is all it would take for senior Herbert Daise to walk across the stage during his Bluffton High School graduation May 30.

To march with his classmates of several years. To shake the hands of his administrators and district officials. To wave to the crowd, his friends and family.

Forty-five seconds is all it would take to make a memory that would last with Daise forever, his friends and family say.

But five points on the state's exit exam, which is being discontinued after this year, stand in his way.

The Beaufort County School District enacted a policy several years ago that students must complete all credit hours and pass the exit exam to participate in graduation ceremonies. That means Daise and other seniors in his situation would not be able to walk the stage with classmates during graduation.

However, many parents and students around the county -- including Daise -- are asking the Beaufort County Board of Education to reconsider that rule as graduation season nears.

"This young man fought hard, took the test and came up five points shy," Angela Bonaparte, Daise's mother, said at a Tuesday night school board meeting. "Given that the state is doing away with the exit exam, I ask you to give the students this day because they have tried so hard to get to where they are. I ask you to let them walk."

Gov. Nikki Haley signed a new law in April deleting South Carolina's decades-old requirement that students pass an exit exam to be able to graduate, starting with the class of 2015.

And starting July 1, students who met all other requirements to graduate -- such as completing the necessary credit hours -- but did not pass the High School Assessment Program will be able to petition their school board to receive their diploma, according to the state Department of Education.

Because students will be able to earn their diplomas retroactively, they want to be able to walk with their senior class during graduation.

The state sets the requirements to earn a diploma. Each local school district sets its requirements to participate in graduation.

The HSAP measures students' academic achievements on high school standards. Students first take the test as a sophomore, and subsequently as juniors and seniors if they do not pass.

The district does not yet have complete data on how many students would be affected by a change for this school year. However, board chairman Bill Evans said he and other board members have received many email requests on the topic.

The school board has called a special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday to discuss this rule. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be in the district office at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort. High school principals have been invited to the meeting to.

The board can't change the rule because it is set by the district administration, Evans said. But superintendent Jeff Moss said he would change the rule if it was the will of the board, Evans added.

During the Tuesday board meeting -- after several parents and students asked board members to reconsider the rule -- Moss asked the board to set a rule that will be permanent in future years.

Board Vice Chairwoman Mary Cordray said she thinks the board should consider changing the rule.

"My heart felt that for any of those kids that are that close and won't make it today but will make it tomorrow, we should give them that opportunity because we are in this transition period," she said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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