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January 6, 2004
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SACRAMENTO – Santa Cruz high school seniors may be able to breathe a sigh of relief about graduating this year, thanks to a bill Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) plans to introduce on Wednesday.

Caught off guard by a new graduation requirement that went into effect this year, many high school seniors had been unaware that they needed to take a year of algebra in order to graduate. “It’s not for lack of trying,” said Simitian, “the kids just didn’t know. No one told them.”

The law, passed in 2000, was designed to beef up the math skills of high school graduates. Despite the delayed implementation, some school districts, including Santa Cruz, were caught unprepared and failed to notify students, leaving seniors, parents and teachers in a panic.

“We’ve had a lot of anxiety over this,” said Diana Fulton, parent of a Santa Cruz high school senior. “Our kids have worked hard and planned hard for this. They shouldn’t be penalized for someone else’s oversight.”

Simitian, who chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, said he decided to shepherd a waiver through after he became aware of the problem. He asked Assemblyman John Laird and Senator Bruce McPherson, both Santa Cruz legislators, to co-author a bill granting a one-time waiver.

If the bill passes, the waiver will apply to the 2003-04 school year only and will be contingent on a two-thirds vote of a school district’s governing board, which must find that there was indeed a failure to provide adequate notice of graduation requirements to students and that the requirement would pose a hardship on students. Simitian plans to amend an existing bill (Assembly Bill 48) in the Assembly Appropriations Committee to make sure the bill can pass quickly—well ahead of graduation.

In a separate course of action, Simitian has also urged the State Department of Education in a letter to grant a waiver to the same effect, which would resolve the issue more quickly than legislative action.

In his January 5 letter to the State Board of Education Simitian argued that, “It would be unfair to punish the students for the failure of the district officials to provide timely notice.”

“Assemblyman Simitian understands that whatever the failings of the school district, the point is to fix the problem while doing the least harm to students,” said Santa Cruz City School Board President Felix Robles.




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