The Nash County Board of Education voted at a special called meeting last week to approve a waiver that will allow some students in the class of 2021 to graduate with 22 credits rather than the 28 credits normally required by the school district.

The state of North Carolina only requires 22 credits to graduate. However, Nash County Public Schools requires an additional six elective credits to graduate.

The waiver was proposed as a way to offset some of the effects of COVID-19 on this academic year.

“Students have faced many challenges related to COVID-19. This waiver will allow principals the opportunity to work with seniors in their schools to ensure that equitable outcomes are present for all subgroups,” Chad Thompson, executive director of secondary education and CTE, said in his presentation to the board. “This request is similar to the mandate given by the N.C. State Board of Education and NCDPI for the class of 2020 last spring. Students will be required to complete all core area courses and exams successfully that are mandated by North Carolina legislation and the Future Ready Core curriculum.”

Nash County Superintendent Steve Ellis requested approval of the waiver from the board due to COVID-19 challenges.

School board member Ricky Jenkins said he did not feel comfortable with approving the waiver.

“I understand that these kids have gone through a lot — so has everyone,” he said. “But we pretty much gave them from March 13 till the end of school last year. I just feel that if we reduce this, it is not motivating the kids who have continued to do everything they were supposed to do. I just can’t support this knowing that a lot of kids have gotten up and gone to school everyday and turned in their work and then we are going to reward people with something like a participation trophy.”

Thompson said the resolution was unanimously supported by the high school principals in the district and would allow them to have flexibility in working with seniors who may be behind on their credits and having trouble making them up because of current circumstances.

Students still would have to complete all core courses in subject areas including English, math, science, social studies and health, Thompson said. The six additional credits that are required locally usually include subjects like the arts, physical education and career and technical education courses, he said.

School board member Lank Dunton asked how this would affect the equity of the district. Thompson said he felt it would be an equitable solution.

“I believe this is being done in good faith to help the child,” Thompson said. “I don’t think principals are looking for a way to penalize anyone. In this case, it is more to help the child because of circumstances.”

School board Chairman Franklin Lamm said he sees the need for the waiver.

“I agree with what Nash County Public Schools has done in requiring 28 credits to graduate, but I would have hated to have been a student this year and have gone through what they have gone through,” Lamm said. “Some students may have gotten behind and not had the chance to go through the credit recovery process like they would normally do. If 22 credits is all that is required by the state, it would be interesting to see how many other school districts require more, but we don’t have time for that. We need to worry about our own.”

In answer to questions from school board members about whether this decision would prompt some students to quit this semester, Thompson said that he did not feel that was likely as most students in this situation still had core subjects to complete in order to meet state graduation requirements.

Ellis said the situation is only affecting a few seniors.

“Most students will be graduating with 28 credits or more because they have been following the plan all along. You are only talking about a handful of kids who will be getting a 22-credit diploma,” he said.

“These students are ones who can’t get enough credits. Maybe they didn’t have a good freshman year, and usually they would have time to make up those credits. But with second semester last and this year affected by COVID, it has been hard for them to be able to make the credits up the way we normally do because the students can’t go to the buildings for the sessions we normally have,” Ellis added.

Ellis said he estimates that this situation will only affect about 20 to 30 students in the district.

School board member Evelyn Bulluck said she feels that the local requirement for 28 credits is meant to be applied under normal circumstances.

“But we are not living under normal circumstances right now,” she said. “We are not talking about making this change permanent. We owe it to our students to do all we can do to make them successful.”

The measure passed by a vote of 9-2 with Dean Edwards and Jenkins opposing the motion.