By Curt Yeomans
Despite their school system's recent loss of accreditation, Clayton County students still have an opportunity to become a Gator, a Seminole, or a Rattler, if they want to attend college in Florida, the state's university system announced on Tuesday.
Admissions officers from Florida's 11 public colleges and universities decided to determine admission of Clayton graduates on a "case-by-case basis," according to Bill Edmonds, a spokesperson for Florida's university system.
Admissions officers took their action after news broke last week of a Clayton County student being denied admission to Florida A&M because his school district lost its accreditation on Sept. 1. The state's university system has an admissions policy which requires students to come from a regionally accredited high school, unless they are home schooled.
"They [the admissions officers] felt it was unfair to punish the students for this since it was not their fault," said Edmonds. "It is important that Clayton County gets its accreditation back as soon as possible. We'll overlook it -- for now. If [students] are interested in attending a Florida university, I would encourage them to contact that school to find out about the admissions requirements for that institution."
Edmonds also said "everyone in the nation" knows of Clayton County's accreditation loss, because it is "such an unusual event." However, its impact on a student's ability to attend a public university in Florida was "not on the radar" of college officials in that state until the local media took an interest in the case of the FAMU applicant, he added.
After the Clayton County student was denied admission, the student turned to U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), a graduate of the university, for assistance. Scott wrote an Op-Ed piece in the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officials' bi-weekly newsletter, asking admissions officials across the nation to overlook the loss of accreditation, and consider Clayton County students.
In addition to FAMU, the State University System of Florida includes Florida Atlantic University; Florida Gulf Coast University; Florida International University; Florida State University; the New College of Florida; the University of Central Florida; the University of Florida; the University of North Florida; the University of South Florida, and the University of West Florida.
"I am very pleased to learn that the Florida chancellor has reviewed the admission regulations and will consider qualified Clayton County students for admission into Florida public universities and colleges," said Scott, in a statement on Tuesday.
"I urge other state, public university systems to closely examine the accreditation issue and to consider the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Clayton County's accreditation," Scott added.
Scott was joined in his appeal to Florida universities by Gov. Sonny Perdue, who had members of his staff work on getting Florida officials to accept Clayton County students, said Bert Brantley, the governor's spokesman.
The governor's staff members explained steps taken in recent months to protect Clayton County students, including guaranteeing HOPE scholarships for the classes of 2009 and 2010, and Georgia's Board of Regents announcing that students would still be eligible for admission to 35 colleges and universities in this state.
"We're really pleased the folks in Florida decided to accept our students," said Brantley. "While we'd prefer they attend a college or university in our state, we understand there are always special circumstances, such as a parent or some other family member may have gone to a school in Florida ... or there may be a program offered down there that isn't available in Georgia."
Clayton County Corrective Superintendent John Thompson said he was traveling on Tuesday and had not heard the news about the Florida colleges, but he was pleased by the turn of events. On Monday, Thompson and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) President Mark Elgart unveiled a plan to get the school system's accreditation back, possibly, before the end of the school year.
Until the accreditation is restored, the district's superintendent is asking college admissions officials to be patient and understanding . "Everyone should evaluate our programs on a case-by-case basis, and not just take a swipe at us because we're down right now," Thompson said. "I can appreciate those who are willing to take time and look at our situation, and not hold our teachers and students hostage for the actions of a group of adults."