Adindean Franklin displays her diploma for her family after walking off the stage during the Thunder Mountain High School graduation on Sunday, May 26, 2019. The Juneau School District board is considering temporarily reducing the number of credits needed to graduate from 23 to 22.5, which is still 1.5 credits more than the state requires for high school graduation. The change will help students who are lagging in credits due to pandemic-related school closures and distance learning graduate on time. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire File)

School board considers temporary graduation requirement change

Moving the finish line closer.

Pandemic-induced school closures and distance learning models have left many of Juneau’s high school students behind in their quest to graduate in four years. But, a plan to temporarily reduce the number of credits needed to graduate could help them get back on track.

At this week’s board of education meeting, Superintendent Bridget Weiss suggested temporarily reducing the number of credits needed to graduate from the Juneau School District from 23 to 22.5, which is still 1.5 credits more than the state requires for high school graduation.

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The change would affect students who are currently in grades nine, 10 or 11. The temporary reduction would reduce the number of elective credits students must earn to graduate and would not affect core content areas.

Weiss said the number of students who are credit current and on track to graduate with their cohort has dropped compared to historical norms. She attributed the drop to the disruption to in-person learning caused by COVID-19 school closures.

For example, she said that 63% of freshmen are credit current, compared to 81% during typical years.

“This is a way for the board to acknowledge some of the hardship created by the pandemic on our students who are in their credit-bearing years,” she said in a memo to board members before the meeting. “It would not resolve all the hardship some students have experienced as many of the failures have been in core content area classes.”

She explained that reducing the elective credit requirement would give students more time to engage in credit recovery and still graduate on time.

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Board member Martin Stepetin called the plan “reasonable, timely and calculated,” and other members agreed.

Credit requirements across the state

According to data Weiss shared in the meeting, Juneau’s graduation requirements are on par with other large districts in the state.

Based on the chart shared with board members, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District requires 22 credits to graduate. The Anchorage School District and the Fairbanks Northstar Borough District both require 22.5 credits. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District requires 24.5 credits, though the school officials lowered it to 22.5 for this year.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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