Tough rule opposed by PTA One failing grade would mean exclusion from activities

High school sports included

Fear is that students would be wary of challenging courses

July 26, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Warning that students may be discouraged from taking challenging classes, Howard County's PTA leadership recommended last night the rejection of the most restrictive of proposed changes to the academic eligibility policy for high school sports and other extracurricular activities.

The PTA Council joined a football coach and former athlete in asking the county school board to reject the proposal, which would prohibit students who participate in any extracurricular activity from having any failing grades.

Taken together, the proposed changes would make Howard's eligibility standards the toughest in the Baltimore area.

The Citizen's Advisory Committee to the school board embraced the proposal during last night's hearing, agreeing with high school principals that students will improve their grades if standards are toughened.

The new policy, which could take effect in time for the winter sports schedule, would prohibit students with a failing grade in any class from playing sports or participating in any other extracurricular activities. Students still would be required to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average.

The proposal also would prohibit students from using summer school to regain eligibility and would eliminate a provision that gives failing students a chance to regain eligibility by improving their grades during the beginning of the season.

Board members, who reacted favorably to the proposal when it was presented to them last month but did not comment on last night's testimony, are scheduled to vote on the new policy Aug. 22.

The county's PTA leaders said they agree with the emphasis on tough standards and support eliminating the summer school option and the provision to regain eligibility by midseason. But they also said they oppose making students with one failing grade ineligible for extracurricular activities.

"Should a student interested in taking a challenging class risk failing and endanger his or her academic eligibility?" said Jan Chastant, speaking on behalf of the PTA Council's executive committee. "Isn't high school a time to explore different disciplines, to challenge one's intellect?

"Members of the PTA Council Executive Committee felt that students should not be discouraged from taking academic risks."

Doug Duvall, a teacher and football coach at Wilde Lake High School, warned that the students who would be "punished" are those living in poverty for whom "when it's time to do homework, they have no place to do it."

He also said the proposed policy would hurt students whose grades temporarily suffer because of divorce or family crisis.

Chuck Walsh, chairman of the Citizen's Advisory Committee, told the board that "setting high expectations will cause students, in general, to step up to them."

"Lower expectations allow students to become lax," he said.

Howard's current eligibility policy requires students to have a 2.0 grade-point average in the most recent marking period but allows them to have one failing grade. Students with low grades also are permitted to attend summer school to improve their marks and become eligible for fall sports.

Students with a grade-point average below 2.0 and one failing grade may enter into contracts with their coaches, parents and educators requiring them to improve their grades over the first month to six weeks of the season, allowing them to practice but not play until they raise their grades.

About 70 percent of Howard's 10,100 high school students participate in a sport or extracurricular activity.

No countywide statistics are kept on the grades of students in such activities as jazz band and computer clubs, but school officials believe that fewer than 200 of the county's approximately 4,250 athletes would be in danger of running afoul of the proposed rules. The average grade-point average for Howard's athletes is 3.0.

In the past school year, about 60 athletes had one failing grade while maintaining a 2.0 average, and 100 other athletes took advantage of the provision allowing them to gain athletic eligibility by midseason. A small group of students also took advantage of summer school to regain their eligibility for fall sports.

If the board approves the new policy, Howard's academic eligibility standards will be the toughest in the Baltimore area.

There are no statewide academic eligibility standards for high school athletics. The Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association, the governing body for the state's high school sports, requires school systems to set and enforce their own. Maryland teams that play academically ineligible players typically must forfeit games.

Anne Arundel County allows students to fail one class and requires a 2.0 grade-point average.

Baltimore and Carroll counties permit students to fail a class but have no grade-point average requirement. In Baltimore, athletes are permitted to fail two classes and still be eligible.

Harford County students are permitted to fail a class but must pass at least five academic classes each marking period and stay on track for graduation. Harford's policy also allows students to appeal to regain their eligibility if their grades have suffered because of a situation beyond their control, such as a death in the family.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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