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A bill now on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk would let high school seniors in the classes of 2021 and 2022 defer graduation by a year, taking a mix of high school classes and college-level credits while continuing to take part in extracurricular activities and spring sports that have been lost to the pandemic.

Bill sponsors say a ‘bridge year’ would allow seniors to make up for lost time, both in terms of missed opportunities and learning loss as they prepare for college.

“Affording high schoolers, whose educational experiences will look different from their peers as a result of this pandemic, a chance to make up for lost time is how we offset the impact of these unprecedented times,” said Assemblywomen Pam Lampitt, Mila Jasey and Valerie Vainieri Huttle in a written statement.

In the fall semester of their bridge year, students would take between nine and 12 credits at their high school, their county's community college or a combination of both. In the spring semester, they would take nine to 12 credits at the county college.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said the bill solves a problem that doesn’t exist and imposes a new program on schools scrambling to deal with a pandemic. Plus, he said, it could allow 19-year-olds to steal athletics accolades.

“At very best it takes a student and allows a student to come back after their senior year and take an opportunity from another student who may have worked years to get on the varsity squad or to be the state champion,” Bergen said.

The Senate passed the bill 39-0 last month, but it ran into more opposition in the Assembly, where the vote Thursday was 56-17 with 5 votes to abstain. Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said it may cause an extra expense for high schools.

“What’s that going to cost a local school district when someone said I want a fifth year or a prep year?” Webber said.

School districts would have to appoint a liaison to manage the program, but it wouldn’t have to be a newly hired person.

There could be financial aid costs for the state, as bridge year program participates could be eligible for financial aid to cover college tuition through Community College Opportunity Grants.

Students could be charged $145 per credit for college classes, plus lab fees, though that might be less than they’d pay if enrolled in college directly. They may also have to pay participation fees for things like high schools during their bridge year, depending on the school district.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said bill sponsor Sen. Paul Sarlo had told him the program likely will be small.

“He feels that there will be some kids that will be better served having a bridge year, but the thought is that number is going to be very low,” Burzichelli said. “When he said very low, under 100 statewide.”

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