CHARLESTON — A West Virginia House bill working its way through the legislative process would allow high school seniors this year to repeat their senior year in 2021-22, delaying graduation.
Because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, House Bill 2806 would give seniors another year to complete high school as long as they satisfy other necessary requirements, including completing academic courses.
The bill would also “allow parents to retain their child without losing a year of sports eligibility.”
“Any student enrolled in a West Virginia public school during the 2020-2021 school year may request to use the 2021-2022 school year as a supplemental school year to retake or supplement the courses the student has already taken,” the bill reads.
Local school boards would have the option to participate in the plan but not required to.
Del. Joe Ellington (R-Mercer County) is chair of the House Education Committee, which recently sent the bill to the Finance Committee with a recommendation it pass.
Although Ellington supports it, he also has “mixed feel ings” about parts of it.
“I do support some parts because students did miss out on both educational and extracurricular opportunities,” he said. “But there may be unintended consequences as a result.”
Those unintended consequences could be the result of the number of students who would choose the option.
“Depending upon how many would repeat the year, this could affect state aid contributions and budgets, class sizes and less opportunities for the rising students,” he said.
Students who are 11th-graders this year, for example, may be vying for specific courses, as well as the opportunity to play sports, he said, and they could be in a position to have to compete for those opportunities when otherwise they would not have an issue.
“If it’s only a handful of students (who opt to repeat their senior year), it is probably not a bad idea,” Ellington said. “If it’s half the class, that would present problems.”
For Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer County, the bill offers a needed opportunity.
“I honestly believe all of these kids have lost a year’s worth of education building blocks (because of the pandemic and being forced to use virtual learning),” he said. “The bill makes a lot of sense to me.”
Gearheart said students may very well have fallen behind and need the extra year to “enhance their ability to move on to higher education” or whatever they choose to do.
Although he has not read the full text of the bill, he said he knows many students are behind and the state has a constitutional obligation to provide them a free and good education.
“I am not ready to be fully on board with it (before he studies the full text), but it make sense to me,” he said. “We should fulfill our obligation.”
As the bill is now worded, school boards have the option to opt out, but if they do participate, it is open to all seniors, not decided on an individual basis. Sabrina Stutts, a member of the Monroe County Board of Education, also has mixed feelings about it.
“The kids have missed a lot of educational time, that’s for sure,” she said. “I honestly would probably support it if the kids felt like they want a better education. I would not want to take away that opportunity.”
Stutts said she also understands that students have missed out on many things they would usually experience during their senior year, including extracurricular activities and normal sports seasons.
She does have some reservations about a student delaying graduation primarily to play sports another year, but she said they did not experience a season normally expected and for those students who love sports it could be understandable.
Stutts’ oldest daughter is a senior and a cheerleader.
“I don’t think she would be interested (in returning for another year),” she said. “It’s been a tough year but I think she is ready to move on. All of them missed out on things but kids who have maintained their grades may not be interested.”
But for those who didn’t, it would give them an option they may need.
The bill also says that local boards of education “shall not approve or reject requests on an individual basis, but shall determine by June 30, 2021, whether the district shall or shall not accept all requests.”
Another provision in the bill says “a retaken course under this section shall not count as an additional credit towards graduation unless the student failed the original course. Retaking a course under this section shall count towards full-time enrollment for the student.”
The student also must attend the same member school as he or she attended during the 2020-2021 school year.
If the bill is approved by the Finance Committee, it must then pass both the House and Senate and obtain the Governor’s signature.
— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline. com