Two Oklahoma high school seniors will receive their diplomas even though they did not pass state-mandated academic exams.
The students — both from Broken Arrow Schools — were given a pass by the state Board of Education at a special meeting Tuesday morning. One student had been accepted to a university; the reason for granting the second student's waiver was not disclosed.
A 2005 law called Achieving Classroom Excellence requires students to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams, also known as EOIs. Each senior must pass the exams to receive a diploma.
A new law passed in April required the state Education Department to set up an appeals process if a student is denied a diploma. The law allows the board to give students a waiver because of extenuating circumstances.
During Tuesday's meeting, the board asked for clarification of some details of the waiver authority. Kim Richey, assistant general counsel for the Education Department, told the board the waiver could only be granted for a single exam.
“If a student needs two EOIs waived, this board does not have the authority to grant them an appeal,” board member Lee Baxter said.
In addition to granting the two waivers, the board decided to move into executive session to discuss the future of eight students, who were from Broken Arrow, Tulsa and Wagoner.
Before the vote, administrators from Broken Arrow Schools addressed the board.
More than 1,000 students graduated from the district this year, Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said.
“We're down to four that did not qualify and we are working diligently with each one of those students and those parents,” Mendenhall said. “It's very, very important to us. ... I'm here to fight for every student in Broken Arrow Public Schools.”
Broken Arrow Chief Academic Officer Janet Dunlop told the board about four Broken Arrow students who were appealing.
One was homeless and supporting two siblings and a disabled mother. Another was supporting himself after losing both parents. One boy was an immigrant from Ghana who received a community college scholarship for community service and academics. The fourth is working to become a mechanic and has taken 18 tests in an effort to meet the requirements. State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi cut Dunlop off after the administrator reached the three-minute time limit for public comments.
The board discussed the eight appeals in private for nearly two hours.
Four board members — Baxter, Amy Anne Ford, Brian Hayden and Bill Price — voted to turn down seven of the 10 applications. Board member Joy Hofmeister disagreed.
One waiver application will be discussed further at the board's next meeting, which is June 28. About 10 more appeals that have been received also will be heard at that meeting, a department spokeswoman said.
In other business, the board approved the public schools Activities Fund Budget for fiscal year 2013.
About $446 million of the budget was already set because of legislative line items, such as salaries, alternative education and bonuses for teachers with National Board Certification.
That left the board with about $10.5 million in discretionary funding. Board members cut some programs and shuffled money around in other places.
But in the end, about $16 million in programs were left unfunded or underfunded, including reading and adult education programs throughout the state.
Board member Price said he regretted the omission of adult education. He and other board members expressed hope that another state agency would pick up the tab.
“It needs to be funded by someone,” Price said.