Kathryn PerricoApril 13, 2020 

With the passage of HB 197 and additional guidance from the Ohio Department of Education (“ODE”), many questions regarding graduation eligibility and its “on track” process have been answered.

For those students who are enrolled in 12th grade, or otherwise on track to graduate in the 2019-2020 school year, districts must determine which students have successfully completed the curricular requirements and should therefore be awarded a diploma. All other requirements for earning a diploma, such as high-stakes assessments and alternative pathways requirements, were waived by HB 197. In addition, districts that had adopted a more challenging curriculum than the state minimum may now elect to require only the state minimum. With the focus shifted entirely towards an analysis of curriculum and course completion, principals are encouraged by ODE guidance to rely significantly on teachers to determine if course requirements have been satisfied. Factors such as attendance, completion of assignments, participation and engagement in remote learning activities, and test scores should be considered. Students with disabilities must be afforded the same flexibility as their non-disabled peers in determining whether they have satisfied graduation criteria. Where successful completion of IEP goals is being used to satisfy graduation requirements, IEP teams will need to analyze progress reports and data, including that which is obtained during distance learning, to determine if goals have been met.

The issuance of grades, and the determination of adequate course completion, are within the discretion of local districts, but proper documentation is required.  While ODE is not presently requiring that this documentation be provided to it, it is urging districts to include:

  • Documentation of graduation decisions, which should include a narrative rationale
  • Student records from the entire high school career
  • Evidence of participation in educational opportunities offered during the closure

Although the core records referenced above have largely already created themselves, the two additional items will require that districts create a system for creating and maintaining such records. Inherent in the final requirement is an obligation to create documentation of all of the educational opportunities offered to students during the period of closure. This documentation will also assist districts in establishing that the opportunities offered to students with disabilities was commensurate to the opportunities offered to typically-developing students. All documents will constitute education records

Diplomas may be awarded to eligible students using the flexibility allowed by HB 197 through September 30, 2020, at which time requirements will revert to those in existence before the closure.

It’s important to remember that, per Governor DeWine’s orders, school districts are to continue to provide educational opportunities to students through a distance learning platform. House Bill 197 was not intended to relax this expectation, but rather to provide relief to districts in relation to existing requirements that cannot be met while education is occurring through a distance learning model, including the completion of state testing and certain graduation requirements.  Students who had already met graduation requirements at the time of the building closure do not need to be included in a district’s analysis of whether a student is eligible to graduate under the flexibility provided by HB 197.

Districts are encouraged to consult with their counsel to determine whether existing Board policies should be suspended and/or modified in order to accommodate the flexibility allowed by HB 197, as well as regarding any issues surrounding how best to create the documentation urged by ODE.

Kathryn Perrico is a partner at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at kperrico@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2948.