School board mulls changing extracurricular eligibility policy

The policy that allows students who are failing classes to participate in sports encourages failure.

The Warren County School District board generally agrees.

But, it’s not quite that clear cut and the board is going to take some more time before voting to possibly change it.

At Monday night’s meeting of the school board’s personnel, athletics, and co-curricular activities committee, members discussed the possibility of changing the policy.

“I brought this up two weeks ago,” board member Jeff Labesky said. “We’re allowing students, whether you’re in middle school or high school, to fail one or two courses and still participate.”

“We’re here for education,” Labesky said. “We’re allowing students the opportunity to fail if they want to. That doesn’t sit well with me.”

He said he has coached for 25 years, including in Sheffield and Kane. “When I was in Kane, there was a zero-tolerance policy,” he said. “It’s part of the coach’s responsibility. If they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the classroom, they don’t get the reward of playing.”

He said there are students who work the system and parents who go along with it.

“I’m asking that the handbook be changed,” Labesky said. “You have to be passing to get to play.”

That sentiment rang true with other board members.

“Not only as a board members, but as a parent, I don’t believe my children would deserve the privilege to play,” board member Elizabeth Huffman said.

“There are kids that they know they don’t have to pass,” board member Marcy Morgan said. “I think we need to raise the bar.”

Board member Mary Passinger presented a counter-argument.

“Everybody knows some child that’s in school because of sports or band or whatever,” she said. “They’re working their butt off. The only thing that gets them out of bed in the morning is a basketball game, or whatever. This might be what makes them quit school.”

Labesky said the policy does, and should, allow for students to be reinstated quickly if they can bring the grades up. “A report goes out every Thursday,” he said. “They might not be eligible for that week, but if they get their grades up for the next week…”

“I’m also worried about the unintended consequences that we’ve run into a number of times over the years,” board member Arthur Stewart said. “If there are only one or two students on that cusp, I have to problem supporting that policy change. If there are several students on that cusp… where an unintended unhappy consequence might be that we wipe out a sport at a school completely…”

“Can we get some measure of what this is?” he said. “If it’s a small number, you can stop the research there. If it’s a larger number… is that a motivator to get kids up out of bed?”

The administration has looked into the policy and other options since Labesky first brought the issue to the board at the regular January meeting.

“I did reach out to a couple other schools that have more stringent policies,” Director of Administrative Support Services Gary Weber said. “We can put it together, that’s not a problem.”

He brought up another concern.

“One of the worst times that we run into would be like right now, when you have no grades in the bank,” he said. “A student might be failing for a couple weeks based on one assignment. That may or may not be a reflection on their ability to complete work in a satisfactory way.”

Labesky was not swayed. “He had the opportunity to pass the quiz or whatever it is… that’s on him,” he said. “That’s how I look at it.”

Passinger asked if the policy applies to all co-curricular activities.

“Coming from theater, if I’ve rehearsed a play for six weeks, and suddenly I have a student who fails a quiz and is ineligible… one grade is important.”

Weber said the policy is not enforced on activities like the All-County Musical, but it is on some non-sport activities, like marching band.

“I’m proposing everybody,” Labesky said. “The musical. It’s like the football coach who loses his star quarterback.”

“I would hate to promote a system that had a student’s eligibility banked on one grade,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “Coming into the meeting, what I thought we would do, take the proposed new system, look at our eligibility reports and apply them today, and bring that data back and see what it would look like statistically.”

The committee members did not move a recommendation on for consideration at the February board meeting in favor of hearing details from administration.