NEW PORT RICHEY — While Ridgewood High School gives the FCAT exam this week, senior Andrew Stagner won't be around.
And that's perfectly fine with the school.
Putting on the FCAT takes up people, time and space. The bells don't ring. The halls must remain silent. Most regular classes don't have a room or a teacher available.
So Ridgewood, like all Pasco County high schools, offers students who already have passed the graduation exit exam — including most of the district's 3,791 seniors —the chance to stay at home. Preferably, they'll study or research college or career options.
"They have to bring back proof about what college interest they explored or what part of their senior project they completed," Ridgewood assistant principal Shawn Hohenthaner said. "It has to be signed by a parent."
Students can still come to school, Pasco High principal Pat Reedy said. But their options will be limited to socializing in the gym or working in one of the few rooms that aren't in use for testing. Classes won't be in session.
With two teachers proctoring in every FCAT testing room, and virtually every room occupied with the test, the schools can't offer much more.
"It's not a matter of not wanting them in school," said Monica Ilse, Land O'Lakes High principal. "We run out of room."
At Ridgewood, as many as 60 percent of all juniors and seniors aren't expected to show up, if past years serve as a guide.
Stagner, this year's valedictorian, said he plans to prepare for his Advanced Placement exams and then visit the University of Central Florida, where he wants to attend if he doesn't get in to MIT.
"Another thing that's nice about having those days off is, we can catch up," he said. "People have jobs. A lot of us have scholarships we have to apply for and stuff like housing applications to complete."
Junior Dakota Blake intends to study for the history and English courses she takes at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
"No beach," she said.
But Dakota didn't rule out the notion that others might be less studious than she. Some of her friends will head to the shores on Tuesday and go paintballing on Wednesday, she acknowledged.
"I don't have time for that," Blake said.
"It may not be a lack of responsibility," said senior Kasey Bulens, who planned to visit local colleges when not working or studying for AP tests. "They may just need a rest day to restock their sanity."
"Some of the people may be done already" with their projects and applications, Stagner added.
Ridgewood assistant principal Hohenthaner said she expected the majority of students to use the days in meaningful ways.
"We have done it four years and never heard anything negative," she said. "Nobody has ever questioned it."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.