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Florida Clears Way to Diplomas for Hurricane-Displaced Students

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High school students who fled their homes in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria struck will be able to earn diplomas in Florida schools, the state has decided.

Miami and several other Florida districts had been seeking special waivers to allow hurricane-displaced students to get their diplomas without taking state-mandated graduation exams.

The Florida Department of Education has decided that high school juniors and seniors can earn Puerto Rico diplomas at their newly adopted Florida high schools. State K-12 schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons explained the decision in a Dec. 29 memo to school districts, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Some activists and educators had worried that Puerto Rican students who fled their homes after the Sept. 20 storm might face difficulty on the state's graduation exam, since it's given only in English. Miami wanted a waiver that would let students skip the exam; another district that took in a lot of Maria refugees sought a waiver that would let students substitute another test, such as the SAT, in their native language.

The state education department's decision allows the displaced students to earn Puerto Rican diplomas. It wasn't immediately clear whether waivers from state exam requirements would be granted for students who wish to earn Florida diplomas. Puerto Rican diplomas carry fewer requirements than Florida diplomas, according to the Orlando Sentinel

Some educators had been concerned that Puerto Rican students who were unprepared to pass the state's graduation exam could impact their school's accountability ratings. Lyons said in his memo that students who earn Puerto Rican diplomas will not count against schools in calculating their graduation rates.

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