Finding alternatives to required courses for high-schoolers

At a glance

  • School districts vary in their policies for allowing a substitute for a required class.

  • You may be able to substitute with a class the school already offers.

  • You can also ask if your child can substitute with a class your child takes outside of the school.

By the time kids are in high school, they’ll face a number of required classes. And depending on what they are — and what their learning and thinking differences are — these classes may present problems. A poor grade in a required class could impact their GPA and failing one might even keep your child from graduating. So how can you work with the school to find an alternative?

The answer depends on the type of class, what your state requires, and how flexible your school is. Your options almost always involve the school waiving its credit requirement for that class. Or giving credit but not a grade (pass/fail). And then it must accept a substitute course so that your child can still get a high school diploma.

The general rule of thumb: It can’t hurt to ask. Whether you succeed depends on two things. One is your specific set of circumstances. The other is the policy of your state and school district. But no matter what the stated policy, it’s worth seeing if the school can be flexible in the case of your child.

If your child has an , you can start by talking with your child’s special education teacher or counselor. You can also talk to school administrators. But you may need to meet with the IEP team to make the substitution actually happen.

Here are some options to investigate in order to get your child out of a required class:

Substitute a class that the school already offers. This is often the simplest solution because it doesn’t involve going outside of the school. And it may require only a change in schedule.

Here’s an example:

Your child’s high school requires two years of foreign language. Your child barely made it through the first year of French and you’re certain that they won’t pass year two. The school might allow your child to take first-year Spanish instead in order to meet the requirement. It’s important to know, however, that some colleges require two years of the same language.

Arrange an independent study. Say the school only offers one choice for 11th-grade American lit, and your child is really struggling with it. You can ask if it’s possible to design a class that meets the requirements, yet moves at your child’s pace. The one-on-one sessions would ideally be with a teacher that your child has had success with in the past.

One thing to consider, however, is that an independent study may show up on your child’s transcript. That could be a red flag for some colleges that your child wasn’t up to taking a particular class.

Substitute with a class outside of the school. If there are no in-school options that you see working for your child, you may still have options outside of the school. Ask if the school would accept a substitute class that’s given online or at a community college.

Here’s an example:

Your child is struggling with foreign language. You can see if the school would let your child take something like American Sign Language or computer coding. The school may have a credit transfer policy. If it does, it might recognize credit from a class taken at another school even if the grade for that class doesn’t transfer.

You may have to pay for an outside class yourself, however. And even if the school is willing to let you substitute the class, it may not give credit for it. Try to agree on a class for which the school will give your child credit toward graduation. That will look better on the transcript.

If your child doesn’t get credit, it could mean your child will need to take yet another class to have enough total credits to graduate. And whether kids get credit or not, the substitute class or the waiver will show up on their transcript.

Other ways you can help

It may be that none of these scenarios will work in your school district. Even so, there are ways you can help your child do better in classes. If your child doesn’t have an IEP or a , you may want to consider having your child evaluated. An evaluation could lead to accommodations that could make required courses more manageable.

If your child has an IEP, make sure they’re getting all of their accommodations and modifications. If your child is getting them all but is still struggling, look into amending your child’s IEP with additional supports. Being an advocate for your child will also help your child feel supported.

Key takeaways

  • An alternate class will appear on your child’s transcript.

  • Make sure your child is still eligible for a standard diploma.

  • If you can’t substitute a class, make sure your child has all the accommodations and modifications possible.


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