DOE clarifies shift in diploma policy, but not completely
The Florida Department of Education issued a new memo this week to “clarify” its abrupt call to districts to stop granting standard diplomas for students following the “GED exit option.” But the clarification still leaves a key question muddled: Will several thousand students currently in the program be grandfathered in?
District officials in Hillsborough and some parents believe from their interpretation of the memo that they will be. But it’s hard to tell if they’re right.
DOE officials say the department doesn’t have the authority to grandfather those kids. But they don’t seem to be in a hurry to stop districts that plan on doing just that.
“If that’s their interpretation of the memo, that’s their interpretation,” DOE spokesman Tom Butler told The Gradebook. But will standard diplomas granted to grandfathered students be valid? “That’s probably a question for a lawyer. At this point, we’re just trying to move forward.”
The July 31 DOE memo that sparked all this says the GED exit option is no longer available to Florida students, effective Aug. 1. That option allowed several thousand students a year to earn standard diplomas even though they did not have credits to graduate and/or high enough GPA’s. The out-of-the-blue move upset district officials statewide, in large part because of the students left in limbo.
The clarification memo, issued Wednesday, says that beginning this fall, students who complete the GED exit option will get a State of Florida High School Equivalency Diploma, which isn’t a standard diploma but isn’t a GED diploma either. According to Florida Statutes, it “shall have equal status with other high school diplomas for all state purposes, including admission to any state university or community college.”
“We sincerely hope this clarifies the issue and regret the confusion and concern the July 31st memorandum created,” the new memo says.
But the new memo doesn’t address the fate of students currently in the GED exit option.
Some see a positive shift on DOE's part. Said Hillsborough district lobbyist Connie Milito: “Those students that are currently in the program … will exit out with a standard high school diploma.” And at least one parent whose kid was in the program – and who had complained to DOE – is thrilled. “Victory people!!!!” the parent wrote in an email to the Gradebook and others. “Current students are grandfathered in!!! Woo-hoo.”
- Ron Matus, state education reporter