The Madison County School District has yet to adopt a new state program that would grant its students automatic acceptance to the state’s public universities.

The Mississippi Department of Education last year introduced new designations for diplomas from the state’s high schools. In the past, the two types of diplomas high school seniors could achieve was a traditional diploma for completing all necessary course work or an alternate diploma for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Under the new program, the state would add three more endorsed diplomas — an Academic Endorsement, a Distinguished Academic Endorsement and a Career and Technical Education Endorsement.

For the academic diploma, students would have to earn 26 credits - two more than are traditionally required for graduation, meet minimum ACT sub-scores in math and English, achieve a 2.5 grade point average and complete an advanced placement course with at least a C.

For the distinguished academic diploma, students need to earn 28 credits, meet higher ACT sub-scores, have a 3.0 cumulative GPA and earn at least a B in their advanced placement course.

The career and technical endorsement, designed to help prepare graduates for the workplace, is earned by earning 26 credits, including four from the same CTE program, keeping a 2.5 GPA and completing a dual credit course in a work-based learning experience.

The state College Board has approved these standards and held that any student in the program who earns the academic diploma endorsement or better will garner automatic acceptance from all public universities in Mississippi.

But the Mississippi Department of Education has not made participation in the program mandatory for all school districts.

Mississippi Department of Education spokesman Patrice Guilfoyle said Tuesday that while MDE was not currently requiring school districts to participate, they are encouraging them to do so.

“It’s a benefit to parents to know these options are out there,” Guilfoyle said. “It’s not a requirement for each school district at this time, but it’s a way we feel we can reward those students who go above and beyond and have that on the transcript.”

School districts in Rankin County, Clinton and Jackson Public Schools are all currently promoting the program on their web sites and informing parents of 2018-2019 freshmen of their options.

Madison County School Board member Philip Huskie raised the issue at the June 10 board meeting, and associate superintendent Edith Mitchell said the district hoped to catch students up during their junior year.

As of Wednesday, there was no mention of the program on the Madison County Schools site. The MCS office was closed last week for the Fourth of July, but district officials have not issued a statement on the matter despite multiple requests through phone calls and emails over two weeks from the Madison County Journal.

The parents of students who should be eligible for the program have not been as silent.

Jan Richardson, a parent whose daughter is set to enter her freshman year this year, attended the meeting and said she found the explanation from the district to be unacceptable.

“While we are disappointed, many parents I have spoken to are hopeful that MCSD students in the classes of 2022 and 2023 will be enrolled in an endorsement tract this fall. Perhaps with the realization that MCSD students would  benefit from having four years to systematically earn an endorsement like so many metro-area students, this can quickly come to fruition.

Janet Shearer, a former MCS education board member and parent of two recent Ridgeland High graduates. She said the district should have begun preparation for implementation of the program in 2017 at the latest and said she feels the failure to implement the endorsements is “inexcusable.”

“The academic and distinguished academic endorsements require planning and academic focus,” she said. “Even if the district implements a ‘catch-up’ plan, there are likely students who will miss out on the endorsements and an automatic acceptance to the universities.”

Another parent, Kenya Rachal, had one of her children graduate from Ridgeland in 2019 and has another in the class of 2022. She said she feels like the automatic in-state university admission is a great way to both better position students for higher education and keep them in Mississippi.

“The college admissions process is often difficult to navigate and for students with limited resources at home, the process can be particularly daunting,” Rachal said. “The academic and distinguished academic diploma pathways are especially helpful for supporting these students and getting them college ready.”

The school board meets again Monday, July 15 at 5 p.m.