Just months away from the finish line, high school seniors in Tacoma are learning there’s one more hurdle for them to leap on the way to graduation: Saturday school.
Tacoma Public Schools announced Thursday that most seniors will have to attend school on one or more Saturdays to fulfill a state-mandated requirement for at least a 175-day school year.
District spokesman Dan Voelpel said the state requires 180 days for students in other grades, unless their school has a waiver from the state. He said nonseniors will meet the 180-day requirement. But 12th-graders, who traditionally finish the school year early, will not reach the 175-day threshold.
When the district updated its calendar following September’s eight-day teacher strike, it moved graduation dates a week later. But over the winter, schools were closed three days due to bad weather.
A combination of the delayed start of the school year and the weather days left no flexibility to recover lost instructional time for seniors, Voelpel said. The district couldn’t further delay graduation ceremonies because of tight scheduling at the Tacoma Dome.
“We had no choice” but to do Saturday school, he said.
The number of makeup days varies among high schools because their graduation dates vary. Seniors at Wilson and Mount Tahoma must attend school three Saturday mornings: April 14, April 21 and May 19. Those schools graduate June 12.
Foss, Lincoln and Stadium seniors must make up only one Saturday. Their graduation date is June 14, so they have two additional school days that can count toward the minimum. Stadium’s make-up day is April 21. Foss’ and Lincoln’s is June 2.
Wilson senior Sheila Daligdig summed up the new schedule in four words: “It’s just messed up.”
She said word was just filtering out to students Thursday, and that she’d already heard some kids say they will be absent for the Saturday sessions. Daligdig works on Saturdays in her family’s business.
“I can’t cancel,” she said.
Kelly Kustok, also a Wilson senior, said she understands why the district is requiring Saturday sessions. She’s approaching them with grudging acceptance.
“It’s one more thing we have to do to graduate,” she said.
Kenneth Davis, another Wilson senior, said he usually works out or hangs out with friends on Saturdays. While he’s not happy about the change, he said that if he has to go to school on Saturday in order to graduate, he’ll probably do it.
Some online commenters blamed the strike and the teachers union.
“The teachers are the ones who decided to strike and yet the kids are having to pay for that as well,” said one.
Another pointed out that April 14 is the day of the Tacoma Daffodil Parade, in which many teens participate.
Voelpel said each school designed its own Saturday programs. They include working on post-high school preparations, senior projects and prepping for final exams.
Voelpel said district officials were aware of the make-up problem soon after the winter weather days in January. But he said they weren’t able to find a solution for all schools until about a week ago.
He said teachers will be paid for the extra Saturday work, but the district has not yet calculated the total cost. The district expects that each Saturday school will require only a few teachers to supervise study sessions and will cost no more than a few thousand dollars per school, he said.
Because the Saturday sessions are mornings only, there will be no lunches served. Students who need transportation can obtain a one-day Pierce Transit bus pass from their school office.
Voelpel said the Saturday sessions will be treated like any other school day. If seniors don’t show up, their absence will be judged either excused or unexcused based on their school’s rules.
Special education students in self-contained classrooms need not attend. Voelpel said those students attend school until the end of the school year.
Seniors at the School of the Arts and the Science and Math Institute are not affected because they already have a state-approved alternate schedule that allows them a shorter school calendar in exchange for longer school days.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635