A program from John F. Kennedy High School's 2019 graduation, which took place amid an investigation into grade inflation at the Gentilly high school. Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

Eight John F. Kennedy High School students with less than one credit needed to earn a diploma were granted waivers by the Louisiana Department of Education on Thursday, allowing them to graduate from high school.

The waivers were approved “due to administrative error on the part of John F. Kennedy High School, with the understanding that an action plan has been developed to prevent the situation from reoccurring in the future,” reads a Thursday letter from Department of Education Superintendent John White to Kevin George, CEO of the New Beginnings Schools Foundation, the charter network that runs Kennedy.

George requested the waivers for the eight students on Thursday. They were granted the same day. In his letter to White, George detailed individual problems each student faced due to Kennedy administrative failures and errors.

For example, one student was “never assigned Health during (their) high school career.”

Two students took courses in an “unapproved, unauthorized online learning program.”

Another student “failed .5 unit of United States History, and the John F. Kennedy High School administration failed to reassign the student in the course,” according to the state’s letter granting the waivers. That student was .5 units shy of graduation eligibility.

Four students were assigned to take credit recovery courses — intended for students who have already failed a class — for courses they had not previously taken. Credit recovery courses are reserved for students who have failed said course.

The eight students were part of a group of about 90 students from the class of 2019 who didn’t meet graduation requirements this spring. That was just over half of the 2019 senior class. Many of the students didn’t find out they were ineligible for graduation until weeks after they walked across the stage at the Gentilly high school’s May commencement.

The waivers, while a route to a diploma, come with a caveat: students accepting them could be ineligible for TOPS college scholarships, George told The Lens last month. It’s unclear how many of the eight students may have been seeking the scholarships. The students are not identified by name.

New Beginnings board president Raphael Gang said the school worked with each of those students and their families to ensure they understood the potential conflict with TOPS eligibility. Gang said the students asked New Beginnings to submit the waiver requests on their behalf.

The graduation problems at Kennedy led to internal, district and state investigations. The state found Kennedy misused a credit recovery program — one of the problems outlined in George’s waiver request written this week. The charter group isn’t likely to release their internal investigation due to criminal investigations, New Beginnings board president Raphael Gang told WWL-TV last month.

NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said Thursday the district’s report “is in its final stages and will be released soon.”

The New Beginnings board surrendered their charter last month, effective at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. On Thursday, Lewis announced KIPP New Orleans Schools would run Kennedy next year.

He also said 40 Kennedy students had met graduation requirements over the summer and nine students had returned to local high schools. Three of those students returned to Kennedy. About a half-dozen more students are seeking waivers from the state.

“That leaves 29 students who must complete various requirements to be eligible for graduation,” Lewis said.

Update: This story was updated with comment from New Beginnings after publication. 

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...