A proposal allowing for current high school juniors and sophomores to voluntarily stay enrolled in high school one year longer after 12th grade is making its way through the state Legislature and would give students the chance to participate in an additional year of extracurricular activities and sports.
The bill, which calls for a “bridge year” option for students who technically graduate from high school in 2021 and 2022 to stay enrolled while taking college credits at a reduced rate, passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday and the Senate Budget Committee last week.
“Now that students will definitively finish out this school year from home, legislation to address potential learning loss is crucial. For countless high schoolers across the state, the spring term is critical to their academic careers,” wrote Assembly co-sponsors Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington) and Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris) in a joint statement Monday.
The legislation was introduced in response to the governor’s announcement on May 4, that all elementary and secondary schools would remain closed for in-person instruction through the remainder of this academic year, and that the spring sports seasons were also canceled.
In-person instruction and sports, as well as all extracurricular activities have been suspended since mid-March in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.
According to the legislation, the bills would establish a three-year pilot program allowing students to defer graduation and remain enrolled in high school while taking a certain number of college credits with nonmatriculated status. At the county college, the students would pay $145 per credit plus minimal lab fees.
The credits would be transferable to any New Jersey public institution and to private or out-of-state schools that choose to accept them. Students pursuing a bridge year would be eligible for grants and scholarships under the tuition aid program or the NJSTARS program if they meet all other eligibility requirements.
More than just access to academics, the bill would also allow the students to participate in school activities, including spring sports teams, under certain conditions.
The sponsors said the bridge year would benefit students by retaining eligibility for school activities important to career opportunities, such as drama clubs, filmmaking, foreign language clubs and intra-murals.
Under the proposal, students would only be able to play spring sports for the school they attended junior year and must meet the age participation requirements of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Association. They would have to declare for the bridge year before the beginning of the second semester of their senior year.
Senate co-sponsor Sen. Paul Sarlo acknowledged the potential athletic advantages of the bill, but said it is “academically driven” because it provides the opportunity to go to college as a nonmatriculated student at a reduced rate to take courses that will prepare them for a four-year college, retake SATs to improve their scores and return to their high school to play a spring sport or participate in a school activity they missed out on this year.
“The third and fourth marking periods were just ripped away from these kids. Losing in-person instruction for challenging college preparatory classes can negatively impact their grades and hurt their chances of being admitted to a more competitive college or receiving a scholarship,” said Sarlo, who is sponsoring the bill with Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Bergen).