School districts can apply for high school graduation waivers in light of COVID-19 challenges to help students graduate this year.

The waivers, which are offered by the state Board of Education, allow high schools to waive two credits for a senior as a last resort to help them graduate on time, said Alissa Muller, the board’s policy manager for career and college readiness. Both credits can be in core subjects, but they cannot be in the same subject area, she said.

“It cannot be two math credits, but they could waive math and, let’s say, science,” she gave as an example.

The emergency waiver opportunity is offered in light of potential challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures. A similar waiver was available to districts last year, but in that case the waiver could be applied to any classes affected in the last three months of the school year. There was no restriction on the number of courses waived.

Board of Education records show that all Yakima County districts except Zillah and Granger had access to the emergency waiver offered last spring.

This year, Muller said districts statewide are likely to apply for the renewed waiver. Those who use it will have to follow slightly stricter guidelines.

“(There is) a little more restriction on what can be waived just because in theory, students would have had more time to make up classes than last year,” Muller said.

She said schools need to show they have made a “good effort to meet requirements” and use the waiver as a last resort. Districts will be required to do additional record-keeping to prove the need to use the waiver, and some additional reporting to the Board of Education and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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Approved districts can use the waiver in addition to an existing waiver that allows schools to waive two flexible or elective classes based on need, she said.

“Those two (waivers) could be stacked together, so up to four credits waived. But again, there are very specific restrictions through the emergency waiver about what those credits are,” she said.

While state credit requirements are ordinarily 24 credits, some districts have added local credit requirements. She said those can be waived as well, if the district desires. The bottom line: “Students can graduate with no fewer than a total of 20 credits,” Muller said.

Superintendents throughout the Yakima Valley are meeting virtually with the Board of Education director next week to learn more about how to apply for and use this emergency waiver, said Kevin Chase, superintendent of Educational Service District 105, which supports regional districts. While he said he was unsure if any districts had already applied for permission to use the emergency waiver, Chase said most likely would.

“There’s definitely going to be a need, and I’m sure people will take advantage of it. Probably not in wholesale, but I think there will be needs among individuals,” he said.

High school students in many Yakima Valley districts have spent a good portion of the school year learning virtually, with more in-person learning in recent months.

Chase said districts are likely to apply for the waiver to make sure no student slips through the cracks.

“Even if it’s just one kid, they need the flexibility,” Chase said. “Districts will use every tool in their toolbox to make sure kids get over the line.”

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka