Seniors concerned about graduation

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Administrators and staff members in the Wayne County Public Schools system have been busy answering phone calls and emails since Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order to keep schools shuttered until May 15.

The COVID-19 fallout has caused considerable concern among parents and senior students.

“They have a lot of questions about graduation, prom and other events,” said Kevin Smith, principal at Southern Wayne High School. “We just try to reassure them that at this point we hope we don’t have to cancel anything. We are taking things week by week.

“I want all of our students to know that the staff and I are working very hard to try and reschedule events, and provide ongoing academic support for all of our students. Things change every day, but we are not giving up on anything at this point.”

Officials at WCPS rolled out online plans to students through different platforms, which allows them to complete their assignments while school is suspended. Hard copies of grade-appropriate enrichment sources and some limited supplies designated to assist elementary students who are unable to participate in virtual learning were made available during three food distribution days last week.

More than 15,000 meals were prepared at 10 sites and distributed to needy families to help offset the loss of income and other issues they’ve encountered during the pandemic.

Smith described the unprecedented situation as a “hardship.”

“I personally worry about my students’ well-being more than anything,” Smith said. “As more and more families are unable to work due to sickness or the closing of their place of employment, I become more worried about how that will impact our students.

“I know when they are at school that they are in a safe environment and are going to get fed twice a day. With that being said, I am proud of WCPS’ effort to continue food service for students during this closure. I know that these meals will help families conserve their income as we continue to fight this virus.”

Late Friday afternoon, WCPS officials announced on Twitter that the North Carolina State Board of Education had approved special rules to help seniors graduate on time. Wayne County students must have the state-mandated minimum of 22 credits (core classes) to receive their diploma.

School counselors are expected to contact seniors and share more information about the BOE’s decision.

The board stated in a release that seniors will receive grades for fall courses - yearlong and semester — and those grades will count toward the students’ grade-point average. Spring courses fall under either “pass” or “withdraw” depending on the student’s grades through March 13 — the last day school was in session.

Students can meet graduation requirements either through remote learning from the school’s district or the NC Virtual Public School, which is a credit recovery program. They can also pass a locally-developed assessment based on material covered through March 13.

The BOE voted unanimously to seek a one-year waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for federal student testing and accountability requirements for 2019-20. The board is awaiting approval from the General Assembly.

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