Will the Class of 2019 get a Ridgewood High diploma?

Complications arise in the Pasco County school district's efforts to make it so.
Ridgewood High School's 2017 graduates celebrate with the students and staff of nearby Chasco Elementary. [Twitter]
Ridgewood High School's 2017 graduates celebrate with the students and staff of nearby Chasco Elementary. [Twitter]
Published Dec. 5, 2017

As the Pasco County school district readies Ridgewood High for its conversion into a technical magnet school, the question of whether the school's current juniors will be allowed to finish there remains undetermined.

"All seniors are grandfathered in," deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said Tuesday, reiterating the district's longstanding rule to let eleventh graders complete their schooling at their current school even after attendance zones are redrawn.

It's not quite so simple as just letting the teens keep attending the school for another year, though.

The district intends to officially close down Ridgewood as a "cost center" with the state, and to reopen it as an entirely different one with a separate mission and new name. For all intents and purposes, Ridgewood High would not exist any longer, meaning students could not graduate from it.

Principal Chris Dunning said he wants to find a way to let the Class of 2019 receive a Ridgewood diploma. But talks with the state Department of Education have yielded mixed results.

If the district wants to retain Ridgewood as a center for just those seniors who don't enroll in the technical school or transfer to Gulf or Fivay through rezoning, it could do so. But those students would have to take courses separately from the technical high classes, with no mixing.

Keeping a distinct staff to instruct the Ridgewood seniors could prove costly. That would prove increasingly true if the numbers that decide to remain are not enough to fill complete teacher schedules.

"We might not be able to do it," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Gadd told the School Board that counselors will be working with current Ridgewood students to make sure they get the best advice for moving ahead.

They will "make an effort to ensure [students] understand what they are getting coming in," he said.

After 2019, the issue would disappear, as Ridgewood makes the full transition to its new status.