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Emergency Graduation Rules, Waivers

House Bills 1121 and 1131 (Laws of 2021) authorized the State Board of Education to adopt rules to implement an emergency waiver program to authorize school districts and private schools to waive certain graduation requirements because of disruptions in learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2021, the Board adopted emergency rules for an emergency waiver program for students in the Classes of 2020 and 2021. Emergency rules are necessary to allow for students and educators to plan for students to be able to use the waiver, and, if appropriate, to graduate in 2021.

The Board anticipates adopting permanent rules for an emergency waiver program for students in the Classes of 2020 through the Class of 2022 at the July 2021 Board meeting. These permanent rules will replace the emergency rules once the emergency rules have expired. Permanent rules will apply to cohorts of student through the Class of 2022.

Download a one pager on the Emergency Waiver Program in English and Spanish. Find additional information and resources on SBE's Emergency Waiver Program page.

1. What is the purpose of this waiver program?

The emergency waiver program is intended to help prevent students from being unduly impacted by unforeseen disruptions to coursework and assessments resulting from an emergency or disaster. The waiver program will:

  • Give districts authority to waive certain credit and graduation pathway option requirements for individual students who were unable to complete graduation requirements despite a good faith effort on the part of the district to help the student meet the requirements.
  • Provide for a waiver of the hour or day  requirement for private schools for the 2020-2021 school year; also states that the instruction hour requirement for private schools with an online education program is deemed met.

The waiver allows LEAs (school districts, charters schools, and tribal compact schools) and private schools to waive certain credit and graduation pathway option requirements for graduating students on a case-by-case basis.

  • The waiver does not apply to local graduation requirements. Districts have the authority to waive their local requirements.
  • Students awarded the waiver must have demonstrated preparation for their postsecondary plan according to their High School and Beyond Plan.

2. What do the emergency rules mean for students?

The emergency rules are designed so that seniors expecting to graduate this year are not negatively impacted by school building closures and related disruptions to their learning and their ability to meet the graduation pathway requirement or earn credits needed for a diploma. The waivers are applied on an individual student-basis so the meaning of the rules may be a little different for each student. 

The rules require that LEAs explore options to provide students the opportunity to meet the graduation pathway requirement or earn credit, since it is the first and preferred option that students meet the requirements they need to graduate. However, if students cannot earn graduation requirement credits or meet the graduation pathway requirement because of school disruptions due to the novel coronavirus, these emergency rules will permit the waiver of some graduation requirements so that eligible students can graduate.

3. How was it determined that emergency rules were needed?

The existing rules for graduation allow for a fair amount of flexibility in terms of how students meet state graduation requirements, but they don't provide enough flexibility in terms of waiving or reducing requirements in a situation such as exists now, with substantial disruption to the traditional education model. Legislation and emergency rules were required to create increased flexibility, specifically focused on seniors in the Class of 2021, so that students could earn their diploma and move on to their next steps after high school.

4. Who is the waiver for? Individual students or districts?

The State Board of Education (SBE) will approve applications from Local Education Agencies (LEAs) (school districts, charter schools, and tribal compact schools).  Once approved, the LEA is authorized to waive certain credit and graduation pathway requirements for individual students in the Classes of 2020 and 2021 who were reasonably expected to graduate this school year and who have demonstrated post-secondary preparation. The LEA is responsible for making waiver decisions on an individual basis at the local level, in accordance with the emergency waiver rules. The Board will not review individual student waivers (although some reporting will be required).

5. The rules say that LEAs must provide information to students about the potential benefits and limitations that could result from receiving the waiver. What are some of the limitations?

There is a place for high school students among Washington’s 50 public and private baccalaureate and community colleges. Students who intend to, or are considering enrolling in, a college or university are strongly encouraged to contact the higher education institution regarding potential impacts. Potential considerations may include:

  • Minimum admission standards for Washington college and universities
  • Preparation for intended majors (e.g. nursing, engineering, and other STEM fields)
  • College course placement
  • Employment eligibility
  • Admission and transfer to out-of-state institutions

Washington’s college and universities want Washington high school students! At the same time, it is important to ensure students are appropriately prepared for college, including college-level mathematics and writing, and can be adequately supported within our campus capacities. Many institutions have adopted flexibility in the admissions process during the pandemic, so if a student is interested in attending college after high school, they should connect with that institution to discuss a path forward:

6. Does the waiver apply to classes beyond the Class of 2021?

No.  However, the State Board of Education is in the process of developing permanent rules for subsequent classes. It is anticipated that permanent rules will be considered for adoption at the July 2021 Board meeting.

7. Can districts provide enough instruction for students to pass a mastery/competency test and not use the waiver?

Yes. In fact, that would be preferred. The emergency waiver is an extra tool districts can use to make sure students graduate after the COVID-19 educational disruptions.

Schools should be working with students to earn the credit and meet their graduation pathway requirement through the strategies outlined in the good faith effort section of WAC 180-111-020 and their existing local authority (which includes mastery-based credit). After all appropriate options for receiving credit and meeting their pathway requirement have been exhausted, then an individual student may be granted a waiver.

8. What does the law mean by “demonstration of postsecondary preparation”?

“Demonstration of postsecondary preparation” means the student has demonstrated skills and knowledge indicating preparation for the next steps identified in their High School and Beyond Plan and for success in postsecondary education, gainful employment, and civic engagement. “Demonstration of postsecondary preparation” may be determined locally, however, the emergency rules adopted by the Board at the March 2021 Board meeting included the following examples:

  • The student has completed  a graduation pathway option in accordance with RCW 28A.655.250 and WAC 180-51-230.
  • The student has completed activities consistent with the criteria for “Career Prep” or has participated in an approved “Career Launch” program through Career Connect Washington.
  • The student has completed a preparatory career and technical education course or a course that meets the preparatory standards as defined in RCW 28A.700.030.
  • The student has developed and practiced leadership and employability skills through a job, volunteer position, or a Career and Technical Student Organization that would enable them to advance in their chosen career field and has obtained external validation from an employer, tribal elder, CTE business or industry advisory committee member, or other community  member that can attest to the student’s preparation for their next steps.
  • The student is a participant in a recognized apprenticeship preparation program or registered apprenticeship program or has signed an apprenticeship agreement with an employer.
  • The student has earned college credit in a core subject area.
  • The student has earned an industry recognized credential.
  • The student has completed minimum college admission standards for four-year institutions of higher education, in accordance with RCW 28B.77.020(7)(a).
  • The student placed into a college-level math or English course at an institution of higher education.
  • The student completed a summer bridge program or a senior transition course (Bridge to College).
  • The student has completed an option permissive under RCW 28A.655.065(5)(c)(i), including:
    • a college-level class in the relevant subject area;
    • admission to a higher education institution or career preparation program;
    • award of a scholarship for higher education; or
    • enlistment in a branch of the military.

9. Can a waiver be used for a student who planned to graduate in the summer?

Yes. The waiver must be granted in the school year the student expected to graduate, which extends through August 31 (RCW 28A.150.203).

A possible student example is: 

A student who planned to graduate in summer and receives the waiver for 1.5 credits attempted during the fall semester that was impacted by the novel coronavirus disruption. The district performed a good faith effort to help the student meet the requirement, but the student was unable to meet the requirement due to having to work to support their family. The student then comes back for summer school to finish a required course important to their postsecondary plan and graduates in summer. 

10. How many credits can be waived and what type?

Under this waiver program, two credits may be waived.  Other waivers may be used with this waiver program, including waiver of local graduation requirements and the two-credit wavier for student circumstances, provided a student earns at least twenty total credits. The limit on number of credits waived is based on what a student attempted during the COVID emergency or was planning to reasonably complete by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Waived graduation requirement credits may include both core credit graduation requirements and flexible credit graduation requirements, as defined in WAC 180-51-210. Waived core credits are limited to one in each subject area.

11. Can a district use a two-credit waiver for student circumstances and this emergency waiver?

Yes, districts may use the two flexible credit waiver in addition to the emergency waiver, provided the student earns at least 20 total credits.

12. Can minimum state core credit requirements be waived?

Yes. A student with this waiver may graduate with fewer than the state minimum requirements. For example, a possible scenario is students graduating with 3.5 credits of English because they were unable to earn credit for the second semester. However, this must be applied on an individual student basis and the first priority is to try to help the student earn the credit. Also, credits in subjects most related to the student’s High School and Beyond Plan should not be waived. 

13. Are there conditions for LEAs to receive the waiver?

In their application for authority to be able to grant individual student waivers, the LEA must certify the following:

  1. The local education agency will adopt by resolution* a written plan, under WAC 180-111-040, that describes the district’s process for granting and declining emergency waiver for students, and provide for a panel with at least one counselor and educators with expertise in trauma-informed instruction and culturally responsive education, and if appropriate, special education, instruction for multilingual/English Language learners, and a migrant graduation specialist or migrant student advocate to review and make recommendations to the district concerning any decision to decline a waiver. The resolution will also include a process for students to appeal within the school district a decision to not grant an emergency waiver. The plan must include culturally responsive ways, based on the school district’s local community, to communicate with students and families about the waiver and the process to request, appeal, or decline the waiver.  
  2. The LEA will consider equity when administering the waiver. The LEA shall disaggregate administrative waiver data by student subgroups as referenced in RCW 28A.300.042(3) and will conduct further disaggregation of subgroups if data is available to do so. If disproportionality is found, the local education agency will take appropriate actions to ensure equitable administration.
  3. The LEA will demonstrate a good faith effort, as defined in WAC 180-111-020, to help the individual student address credit deficiencies and meet core course and graduation pathway requirements prior to granting a waiver.
  4. The LEA will grant waivers to eligible students in accordance with program rules (WAC 180-111)—on an individual, case-by-case student basis—after a good faith effort has first been made to help students earn the credit.
  5.  The LEA will maintain records on the use of the waiver, and report administration data to the SBE in the annual basic education compliance survey, and report student-level data to OSPI as determined by OSPI.

*The Washington State School Directors' Association has developed a model resolution to assist school districts with implementing the Emergency Waiver Program.

14. What does the law mean by “good faith effort”?

“Good faith effort” means the local education agency or private school considered and implemented options, determined appropriate by the local education agency or private school, to support individual students in meeting credit and graduation pathway requirements. This includes consideration of awarding and waiving of credits through the existing authority of local education agencies and private schools (e.g. providing mastery credit where appropriate). LEAs should consider all the options, determine which ones the LEA can provide, then examine individual circumstances and determine which of the available options are appropriate to implement with the student. 

15. What specifically can be waived?

High school credit graduation requirements and graduation pathway option requirements may be waived.

High school graduation requirements or equivalencies established under RCW 28A.230.090, are credit-based graduation requirements. The waiver does not grant credits, but rather waives the need for the credits in order to earn the diploma.

Waived graduation requirement credits may include flexible credits and up to two core credits, with no more than one credit in each core subject area being waived, as defined in WAC 180-51-210. Students must graduate with no fewer than a total of 20 credits.

The high school graduation pathway requirement established under RCW 28A.655.250 may also be waived.

16. What about other requirements for graduation, like the High School and Beyond Plan?

This emergency waiver program does not allow for the waiver of the High School and Beyond Plan.  Also, this emergency waiver program does not extend to local graduation requirements. 

17. Can Washington State History and Civics be waived under this emergency waiver program?

Civics, taught as a stand-alone course for credit, may be waived under this emergency waiver program. 

Under existing law, districts may waive Washington State History for juniors or seniors who took a state history course in another state, or who missed taking Washington State History because of residing outside of Washington, or other circumstance due to an emergency (WAC 180-51-210 for districts that are implementing the 24-credit graduation requirements).

Current middle school students who miss completing Washington State History because of school closures cannot use the current emergency waiver. Addressing the needs of students in the classes beyond the current year’s graduating class is ongoing work of the State Board of Education, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and local districts. 

18. What are the LEA’s data and record-keeping requirements?

Document in the individual student record (in cumulative file, HSBP or in student management system):

  • Steps taken to demonstrate good faith effort to help the student meet graduation requirements
  • Courses, term, and amount of credit waived
  • Whether the graduation pathway option was waived
  • How the student demonstrated postsecondary preparation

Report on the student transcript:

  • Any waived credit(s)
  • Graduation pathway waiver

Collect data on:

  • The number of waivers requested and not granted.
  • Student demographics on waivers granted and not granted by student group to:
    • Disaggregate waiver data by student group for use by the district in evaluating equitable administration of the waiver
    • Report student-level data to OSPI (TBD*)

Report to SBE on:

  • Districtwide good faith efforts
  • Actions taken to ensure equity in administration of the waiver

*Exact reporting requirements and processes are yet to be determined by OSPI and SBE. The rules specify the LEA will maintain records on the use of the waiver, and report administration data to the SBE in the annual basic education compliance survey, and report student-level data to OSPI as determined by OSPI.

19. Can students in the Class of 2019 or before who have not yet earned their diploma access the emergency waiver?

No, the legislation that authorized the emergency waiver program limited the application of the emergency waiver to students starting with the Class of 2020.

We encourage working with students in earlier classes to consider existing flexibilities and ways of awarding credit for demonstrated knowledge and skills. Options could include:

  • mastery- or competency-based learning*
  • the Expedited Assessment Appeals (EAA) Waiver (students in the Class of 2018 need to have attempted another assessment before accessing the EAA)
  • the two-credit waiver for individual student circumstances for schools implementing the 24-credit diploma requirements
  • work-based learning credit
  • waiver of local graduation requirements
  • Special, Unavoidable Circumstance Appeal (SUCA) to waive SBA
  • WA-AIM Engagement Rubric for an “Awareness Waiver” or the CIA options (Certificate of Individual Achievement) for students receiving special education services
  • flexibility for PE and WA State History
  • summer school or online credit recovery
  • extended and expanded learning opportunities

*Additional Considerations around Mastery-based Learning

  • Through mastery- or competency crediting you may be able to award credit for languages, including a student’s native language if the student is bilingual or learning English.
  • Students who are successful in a higher level course in a sequence of courses, but who were unsuccessful in the lower level courses, may be awarded competency credit for the lower level courses. Success in the higher level course is a demonstration of mastery of the learning standards addressed in the lower level courses.
  • Course equivalency—one course that meets two graduation requirements, allows greater flexibility in student schedules, and accelerates students meeting graduation requirements. For courses that address learning standards in more than one subject, are the standards addressed sufficiently in two subjects that you could consider awarding two credits through mastery-based learning? Or, with an additional demonstration of skills and knowledge by the student, would it be possible to award additional credit?
  • See additional information in the mastery-based learning FAQ.

20. Can a student who is granted an emergency waiver use the waiver next year if the student is unsuccessful in graduating this year?

The emergency waiver is intended as a last resort for students to be able to graduate this year, the 2020-2021 school year. If a student is granted an emergency waiver, but then is unable to complete requirements by August 31, 2021 and is not able to graduate, the emergency waiver cannot be “carried forward.”

However, the State Board of Education approved proposed permanent rules that will be considered for adoption in July 2021. If the proposed rules are adopted as they are now, then the same flexibilities available in the emergency rules for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 will be extended through the 2022 cohort. The emergency waiver will be used to enable a student to graduate in the school year in which the emergency waiver is granted. The flexibilities will include 2 credits that may be waived, that may be flexible or core credits, with no more than one core credit in a subject area.

If the Board adopts the proposed rules without change in July, and a student with an emergency waiver fails to meet requirements and comes back to complete next year, district educators should work with the student to reevaluate the use of the waiver. If the student has the same plans for postsecondary then it MAY make sense to waive the same courses. If the student’s plans have changed, or if it now makes sense to use the additional year for the student to earn more credit and be better prepared for their next steps, then the waiver may not be needed.

21. Can students who want to graduate early use the emergency waiver?

At the May 2021 Board meeting, the Board adopted revised emergency rules that included a provision (WAC 180-111-050(3)) that allows districts to grant a waiver of the pathway requirement to students in later graduating cohorts who planned to graduate this year, 2020-2021. Students in the Classes of 2022 or 2023 (or later) who have met all other graduation requirements may have their graduation pathway requirement waived. These students may not receive an emergency waiver of credit requirements.