Suit prompts changes to PROMISE policy

By Cara Bailey | Dec 6, 2007

CHARLESTON - Due to a lawsuit filed by a West Virginia University student, the PROMISE scholarship's leave of absence policy is receiving an overhaul.

The Higher Education Policy Commission added military duty, programs related to the student's study, service, study abroad, volunteerism, extreme financial hardships and extraordinary circumstances beyond the student's control as acceptable reasons for a student to take a leave of absence.

The changes must still be approved by the Legislature, after they are put out for 30 days for public comment.

WVU student David Haws and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit in July, against the commission and the PROMISE Scholarship Board, claiming Haws' First Amendment rights were violated.

Haws claims he was refused deferment of his scholarship when he chose to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The church "strongly encourages" men to go on missions when they turn 19.

When he left school, Haws had maintained a 4.0 grade point average before he left for his mission and claims he should be allowed to step back into the program where he left off.

The former PROMISE policy allowed leaves of absence for medical reasons or family bereavement.

Haws returned to school in August. His tuition has been deferred until the lawsuit is settled. However, a noticeable absence in the PROMISE changes is the approval of religious missions.

Under the new policy, students who take an approved leave of absence have six years after they first got the scholarship to finish their degree.

PROMISE is a merit-based scholarship that provides in-state tuition for West Virginia students who achieve a minimum 3.0 gpa in high school and a composite score of 22 on the ACT college entrance test.

There are several other proposed amendments to the policy, which would:

* Allow a student that misses the March 1 application deadline to have until July 1 to apply for a spring semester award.

* Remove scholarship eligibility for GED recipients unless they are home-schooled for both 11th and 12th grade.

* Add a minimum score of 2500 on the GED examination for home-schooled students.

* Require home-schooled students to apply within two years of the dates the applicant's high school class would have graduated.

* Allow the Promise Board to set minimum scores for the SAT or ACT standardizes tests annually.

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