RALEIGH — Wake County high school seniors may no longer have to drag themselves to school when they have the flu or some other ailment in order to retain their exemptions from some final exams.
Wake high school seniors with good grades and good attendance records can get a pass on final exams that are not mandated by the state. But at a time of heightened concern over H1N1 and other medical issues, high school principals are working on a way for students to cite "extenuating circumstances" so their absences won't count against the exemptions.
"I've seen kids with flu and pneumonia drag themselves to school and get everyone else sick," school board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman said at a recent policy committee meeting where she pushed for the waiver process.
Donna Hargens, Wake's chief academic officer, said they might have the new appeal process in place before seniors begin taking final exams in June.
High schools throughout the Triangle encourage students to attend classes by offering them the exam exemptions. Policies vary, with some school districts offering the exemptions only to seniors and others to all high school students.
At most Wake high schools, seniors get a pass on some final semester exams if they have an "A" average for a course and no more than three excused absences, a "B" average and no more than two absences, or a "C" average and only one absence.
"It's not an entitlement for students, but it's a wonderful bonus for students who make the effort," Goldman said.
The number of courses eligible for the exemption would go up if state legislators pass a law that eliminates four state end-of-course tests given to high school students.
Doug Thilman, principal of Cary High School, said seniors who've exceeded the absence limit frequently appeal to get the waiver. The answer, he said, is generally "no," in order to stay consistent with other schools.
"We try to stay clearly within the policy we have," Thilman said.
But Goldman said the parental outcry she has heard since the February death of a Cary High senior from H1N1 prompted her at last month's policy committee to ask for a waiver process for the exemptions. She said that students who are ordered by a doctor to stay home for medical reasons shouldn't lose out on getting the exam exemptions.
Hargens told Goldman that principals felt that the range of absences allowed under the guidelines was sufficient. But she agreed to have the high school principals look into developing a waiver process.
Hargens said the principals will likely report back to the policy committee in April. She said one of the issues that needs to be resolved is what excused absences would be considered "extenuating circumstances." It could just be medical issues or could include absences due to a death in the family.
Hargens said the challenge of determining what qualifies for a waiver is that absences are only excused if they're for a good reason in the first place. She said seniors need to understand if their reason isn't considered sufficient for a waiver.
"Exams are part of the learning process," Hargens said. "They're not a punishment. I don't want anybody to think that it's the worst thing in the world if you have to take an exam."
But don't expect too many Wake seniors to complain about the new process.
"If you are doing well in a class, I really think that bad ailments shouldn't get counted against your exemption," said Caroline Hunt, 16, a senior at Garner High School.
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