GRANBURY, Texas — "We were told up, until this point, that if he passes all his courses and he does his credits and he does the 10 hours of the community service that is required for him to graduate, he’s going to walk," said Crystal Smith.
On Monday, 11 days before Granbury High School's graduation ceremony, she said she was told her son will not be able to graduate because he had not passed the five STAAR end-of-course exams required by the state to graduate.
"I was furious," said Smith.
Last year, the Texas Education Agency released guidance to waive the end-of-course exams and allow 2020 graduating seniors to have their graduation status reviewed by an individual graduation committee (IGC), so they could still graduate. STAAR tests were also canceled.
This year, graduating seniors must have passed at least three of the five end-of-course exams to even be able to be reviewed by an IGC.
In an email to WFAA, a spokesperson for Granbury ISD stated, "...2020 was different because the state provided leeway to districts and students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, this does not apply."
Smith said her son, like millions of others in his grade, spent a bulk of the last year and a half learning in a pandemic. She also said he had to be out multiple times, for a varying number of days, because he was exposed to COVID-19, including instances at school.
“He dipped down because of everything that’s going on in the world, being angry, showing grief, and he dealt with it as best as he could," Smith said. "Sometimes his grades showed that."
Smith said Hunter went from failing classes to his lowest grade being a 78.
"He did as best he could," said Smith.
While the TEA published new guidance for spring 2021, saying it cannot "lawfully waive graduation requirements," the agency is waiving consequences for standardized testing for school districts and individual campuses.
"It’s not affecting the teachers," Smith said. "It’s not affecting the school board. It’s not affecting their funding. It’s not determining whether they’re going to have a job next year. So, why is it OK to determine whether or not these seniors get to move on to the next chapter of their life?”
Smith said she believes her son would've performed better if he'd been able to attend school in a traditional setting over the past year-and-a-half.
"Face-to-face interaction is really important," Smith said. "He and everyone else didn't get that."
The spokesperson for the school district confirmed that students in Hunter's position will have resources made available to them to help them pass and achieve their diploma. However, Smith said she was told there wouldn't be a graduation ceremony held at a later date to honor the students who received their diploma later and that they couldn't walk with the other graduates because it wouldn't be fair to the other students.
"He's being stripped of something he should be proud of," said Smith.
Smith said she is proud of the progress her son made in a difficult time to improve his grades, and she's hopeful the district will consider honoring the 2021 graduates who struggled in the pandemic.
"He took his grades from struggling, with everything with COVID, everything that’s happening in our society, plus adding on our normal day-to-day tragedies of family struggles. Losing and loss and people getting sick," Smith said. “You add all that together on top of a young mind, who is just starting to mature and blossom."
Granbury ISD could not provide a number of seniors who were unable to graduate because of failed STAAR tests for the current school year or the past two school years.
The spokesperson said the numbers for this school year and the 2018-2019 school year are too low to disclose without the potential of identifying the students. He could not provide the number of students who didn't graduate in 2020 because the requirements were handled differently.
While he confirmed there are seniors currently going through the IGC review process, he couldn't give a number because it's a rolling process.
WFAA also reached out the Texas Education Agency about the change in policy and to inquire about the number in students statewide who were unable to graduate because they didn't meet testing requirements. WFAA is still waiting for a response from the TEA.