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Hernando officials attempt to clear up confusion for dual-enrolled students

BROOKSVILLE — Confusion about a new state law boiled over at Tuesday night's Hernando School Board meeting as more than 50 parents and students showed up to voice their concerns.

For more than an hour, people took to the podium wondering whether high-achieving students would be forced to graduate early and bemoaning the lack of communication and information.

Over and over, superintendent Bryan Blavatt attempted to allay their fears.

Hernando schools will not force students to graduate after they reach 24 credits, Blavatt said. The district will not prevent students from taking certain courses. And the law was not intended to punish high-achieving students, he said.

"No youngster in Hernando County who is a part of our school system is going to be turned away and told they can't go to school or they can't take courses," the superintendent said. "And to my knowledge, at this point, no school has told anyone that."

But that didn't stop roughly a dozen people from going to the podium during the sometimes contentious meeting.

At issue is House Bill 7059, which went into effect July 1. It provides a student the option to graduate from high school early once he or she has completed at least 24 credits and met standard graduation requirements.

There's been a lot of misinformation floating around the past few days, in part propagated by erroneous media reports, Blavatt said.

Angie Davis and her daughter, Rachel, a junior at Nature Coast Technical High School, both spoke to the School Board, worried about the change.

But on Wednesday, Angie Davis met with school officials and determined there wasn't a problem with her daughter taking two more years to graduate.

"Her track for college is uninterrupted," Davis said, noting that there wasn't a problem on the district's end.

The issue does not appear to be completely settled, though. Much of the continuing confusion has to do with students who are dual enrolled in community college classes.

Blavatt said students who have 24 credits and elect to graduate would, as high school graduates, have to begin paying for classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College or some other community college.

That's fairly clear.

The confusion comes with students who have completed 24 credits but decide to continue taking high school and dual enrollment courses during their senior year, Blavatt said.

"Our position is, with the support of the state, that those students are considered dual-enrollment students and should not pay," he said. "PHCC and some of the other colleges don't see it that way, and they think the student should have to pay."

Blavatt said he is waiting for clarification on that issue.

"That's where the confusion is," agreed newly hired assistant superintendent Ken Pritz. "(State officials) have not come back with that answer yet. That obviously is a huge point of discussion as to who is going to pay."

Jeanne Gasque, assistant dean of instructional services for PHCC, said Wednesday that any high school student classified as "dual enrolled" does not need to pay college tuition.

She noted, however, that she had not been briefed on the specific issue of Hernando County students who have reached 24 high school credits. No other PHCC officials were available.

In previous interviews, Blavatt has said that forcing students to pay for their community college courses would be difficult for many students.

He said some students are scrambling to rearrange their schedules in light of the confusion over the new state law.

Another issue is when Bright Futures scholarships would kick in.

The law states that the scholarships kick in during the spring semester of 2013 for students who graduate early, Pritz said. But it is unclear how it will be applied to future graduates, he said.

The district is waiting to receive clarification.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

Hernando officials attempt to clear up confusion for dual-enrolled students 08/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 8:15pm]
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