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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published February 12 2010

Stenehjem: Schools can set stronger graduation rules

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s new education standards law says high school students must now earn 22 credits to graduate, but Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Thursday that schools may set stronger requirements.

The Legislature overhauled the state’s high school graduation re-quirements last year. Besides raising the number of graduation credits from 21 to 22, lawmakers also created a new “merit” diploma that students can attain by completing more class work.

The former law said a high school student needed “at least” 21 credits to graduate. The new law dropped the “at least” and says a student needs 22 credits, leaving superintendents and the state Department of Public Instruction wondering whether districts could demand more.

In his legal opinion Thursday, Stenehjem said the new law does not explicitly say schools are limited to requiring 22 credits. At the same time, he said, the law leaves it open for school boards to still use their authority to mandate extra course work.

Stenehjem said lawmakers would have been stripped away that authority if they wanted to set 22 credits as the limit.

“Local school boards continue to have the authority, as they have for years, to prescribe additional units that might be required in that school district,” Stenehjem told The Associated Press.

Democratic state Rep. Lois Delmore, who also teaches high school in Grand Forks, requested the opinion from Stenehjem. She said Thursday that she was pleased with its conclusions.

“It says what I thought the intent of the law was to begin with, that 22 (credits) is a minimum number,” Delmore said. “Districts, with local control, can then decide how many credits students need to graduate.”

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