A crowd of about 50 people broke in to applause Thursday night when the Beaufort County Board of Education announced that students who met all credit requirements will march in graduation ceremonies this spring. The decision includes those who did not pass the state's exit exam.
"Thank you," said Bluffton High School senior Herbert Daise, who was five points shy of passing the exam. "Thank you so much for letting us participate with my class."
The change effects up to 34 seniors across the district.
At a special meeting, the school board approved a motion directing superintendent Jeff Moss to change the current administrative rule to allow students who have met all credit requirements to walk. The vote only allows the students to walk with their peers. They will not receive a diploma at the ceremony.
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The vote passed 9-1-1, with Jim Beckert opposing and Geri Kinton abstaining.
The current rule -- passed in 2007 -- says students must meet all state requirements to participate in graduation, which currently includes passing the exit exam.
But the Beaufort County administration may not need to change the rule, Moss said.
The state understands the difficult situation it has put school districts in with the passing of a law in April, Moss said. That law ends South Carolina's decades-old requirement that students pass an exit exam to graduate, starting with the class of 2015.
But many schools are uncertain how to treat this year's graduates who did not pass the High School Assessment Program, or HSAP.
Gov. Nikki Haley's office is working to find a solution, Moss said Thursday night after talking with Haley's chief of staff earlier in the day.
The governor's office wants to change the day the law became effective. That currently is July 1. The state hopes to make it effective the day Haley signed it: April 14.
"With the effective date of her signature, HSAP would not be an issue this year," Moss said.
The state hopes to make that decision by Wednesday. The district's first graduation is May 30, two days later.
In case the state doesn't decide, the Beaufort County school board has put a plan in place so students can walk.
If the district does change its rule, it will be a permanent change, board chairman Bill Evans said. This means all students in future years would only have to complete all credit requirements to march.
The state sets the requirements to earn a diploma. Each local school district sets its requirements to participate in graduation.
Many board members were in favor of allowing the students to march because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Beaufort High School principal Corey Murphy said he was very excited that the six such students at Beaufort High would be able to participate.
"They all came to me individually and it was so hard to tell them they wouldn't be able to participate," Murphy said Thursday night. "So I am so excited that I will be able to shake these young people's hands during graduation."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.