Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1981 No. 20 - November 24, 1981
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- STUDENTS ‑- STATE FUNDING ‑- EARLY RELEASE OF GRADUATING SENIORS 

(1) RCW 28A.58.754(5), as amended by § 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess., permits a school district to conduct its graduation exercises five days prior to the end of the normal 180-day school year and then release the graduating seniors from any further school attendance requirement.

 (2) Even if a school district elects not actually to conduct graduation exercises five days prior to the end of the 180-day school year, the district may nevertheless simply release all of its graduating seniors from any further requirement of class attendance during the five‑day period and is not, instead, required to operate some form of noninstructional program (for students wishing to participate) for which attendance records are to be maintained. 

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

                                                               November 24, 1981 

Honorable Roger Van Dyken
St. Rep., 42nd District
440 House Office Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

Cite as:  AGO 1981 No. 20                                                                                                                

 Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested our opinion on several questions concerning the early release of graduating high school seniors under RCW 28A.58.754(5), as amended by § 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess.  We paraphrase those questions as follows:

             (1) Does the foregoing law permit a school district to conduct its graduation exercises five days prior to the end of the normal 180-day school year and then release the graduating seniors from any further school attendance requirement?

             (2) If a school district elects not actually to conduct graduation exercises five days prior to the end of the normal 180-day school  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] year, either because of a lack of authority to do so (i.e., a negative answer to question (1) above) or for policy reasons, may the district nevertheless simply release all of its graduating seniors from any further requirement of class attendance during the five‑day period or, instead, is the district required to operate some form of noninstructional program (for students wishing to participate) for which attendance records are to be maintained?

             We answer question (1) in the affirmative and respond to question (2) in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             Prior to its amendment by § 1, chapter 250, Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess., RCW 28A.58.754(5) provided that each school district's basic education program must be accessible to all students between the ages of five and 21 years,

             ". . . and shall consist of a minimum of one hundred eighty school days per school year in such grades as are conducted by a school district, and one hundred eighty half-days of instruction, or equivalent, in kindergarten: . . ."

             In turn, state funding of a district's program was predicated upon compliance with this requirement so as to cause a school district to sustain a reduction in its allocation of state funds1/ in the event that it either:

             (a) Conducted graduation exercises prior to the end of the normal school year and then released its graduating seniors from any further attendance requirement; or

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            (b) Without actually conducting its graduation exercises early, nevertheless released its graduating seniors from attendance requirements during the last week (commonly referred to as "Seniors' Week" or the like) of school.

             In apparent response to this problem, however, the 1979 legislature added the following proviso to the statute:

             ". . . PROVIDED, That effective May 1, 1979, a school district may schedule the last five school days of the one hundred and eighty day school year for noninstructional purposes in the case of students who are graduating from high school, including, but not limited to, the observance of graduation and early release from school upon the request of a student, and all such students may be claimed as a full time equivalent student to the extent they could otherwise have been so claimed for the purposes of RCW 28A.41.130 and 28A.41.140, each as now or hereafter amended."

             Bearing this amendatory language in mind, we turn, now, to your questions.

             Question (1):

             Your first question, as above paraphrased, asks:

             Does the foregoing law permit a school district to conduct its graduation exercises five days prior to the end of the normal school year and then release the graduating seniors from any further school attendance requirement?

             RCW 28A.58.754(5),supra, as amended, does not specifically address the question of when graduation exercises may, or must, be held.  But, again alluding to the problem which gave rise to its enactment, it is important to note that even before its effective date (May 1, 1979) it was entirely possible for a school district to conduct graduation exercises whenever it wanted to‑-even before the end of the school year.   [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] The point at issue, however, is that if the district did so, it could not then release the graduating seniors from school, early, without violating the 180-day requirement of the basic education law and, thereby, losing state funding.

             In our opinion, the ability of a school district to conduct graduation exercises at any time it choses remains unaffected.  What the legislature has done, however, is to make it possible for such a district to conduct those exercises early and then release the graduates from any further requirement of class attendance2/ ‑-without the penalty of a loss of state apportionment funds.

             Question (2):

             The issue raised by your second question is whether a school district desiring to utilize the subject law must actually conduct "early" graduation exercises in order to do so.  Or, instead, may the district, for whatever reason, schedule its graduation exercises for some date on or after the last day of the school year but,

             ". . . nevertheless simply release its graduating seniors from any further requirement of class attendance during the five‑day period . . ."?

             We believe that, under the enabling 1979 legislation above quoted, a school district may do just that if it chooses to do so.  Once again, repeated for ease of reference, the statute provides that:

             ". . . a school district may schedule the last five school days of the one hundred and eighty day school year for noninstructional purposes in the case of students who are graduating from high school, including, but not limited to, the observance  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] of graduation and early release from school upon the request of a student, and all such students may be claimed as a full time equivalent student to the extent they could otherwise have been so claimed for the purposes of RCW 28A.41.130 and 28A.41.140, each as now or hereafter amended."

             The basic thrust of this provision is to vest the districts with discretion and then leave it up to them, in the sound exercise of that discretion, to determine what attendance requirements, if any, will be imposed on its graduating seniors during the last five days of their senior year of school.  The term "noninstructional purposes" is broad enough to include either the actual conduct of some on-campus program not involving class attendance or, in the alternative, simply a release from any classroom or other attendance requirement.  And, in either event, the students may be claimed as full-time equivalent students to the extent they otherwise could have been so claimed (i.e., if actually in attendance at school) for the purposes of the state apportionment statutes, RCW 28A.41.130 and 28A.41.140, cited.

            In so concluding, we might add, we have not overlooked the phrase "release from school upon the request of a student."  We would, however, regard that provision as an example, only, of what the legislature considered to be a "noninstructional purpose;" i.e., the release of students from any further attendance requirements.  Accordingly, we do not think that an actual request for such a release is a necessary condition to a district's release of its graduating seniors or that a district is required to actually conduct some form of noninstructional activities for students who do not wish to be released early.

             We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General 

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General 

THOMAS L. ANDERSON
Assistant Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/See, WAC 392-12-105 which defines a full-time, equivalent secondary student‑-for state apportionment purposes‑-as one who is actually enrolled for a specified number of hours per week/day for the purpose of attending school.

 2/Assuming, of course, that only five days of school remain following the date of the graduation ceremony. 

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo