New rules may help athletes with school

Teachers see more student effort with tougher eligibility criteria

Education Beat


Applause filled the room when Bel Air High School athletic director Phyllis Hemmes announced at a parent meeting last year that the school system was planning to implement tougher criteria on academic eligibility for students who participate in extracurricular activities.

The old policy allowed high school students to participate if they received no more than two failing grades. The new rule allows just one.

Through the first quarter of the school year, the change, as expected, has resulted in marked increases in the number of students who are ineligible at some schools, while others reported substantial decreases.

Much attention has been paid to the effect on students who participate in athletics. Athletic directors say they think the change has had a positive effect.

"The teachers are reporting that some students are more concerned with their grades than before," said Ron Petray, athletic director at Havre de Grace High. "They are asking more frequently how they're doing in class. They are monitoring their grades more closely before it's too late to do anything about a bad one. Teachers are telling me they're receiving a lot more completed homework."

The effort may not stop there. School officials have discussed tightening the rules to require students to earn all passing grades to remain eligible.

"When the board approved the proposal, they asked the attendees of the board meeting why we should allow any failing grades," said Forest Weist, supervisor of high school physical education and athletics for the county. "They said, `Let's look at the results of this change and maybe then go to a policy that would allow no failing grades.'"

The school board approved the current change last December, after receiving a proposal from the Athletic Legislative Committee, which governs the policies of the high school athletic programs.

However, school officials chose not to implement the new rule until the last quarter of the 2004-2005 school year to ensure that all students were notified before the change took effect.

When report cards were distributed in June, 1,938 students were ineligible, up from 1,603 in June 2004. There are more than 12,000 high school students in the county.

The school system does not keep data on how many athletes are affected, but the rise in the increase of ineligible students generally has not had a large impact on athletic teams said Hemmes, the Bel Air athletic director. She said most of the students who are ineligible are not participants in sports. Still, the importance of academics should be of concern to all students, not just those who take part in activities, she said.

"We have always told our students that academics are what will matter in the real world, and if they want to get paid they have to get an education," Hemmes said. "The kids who really want to play make sure they make the grades so they can."

Although Bel Air's athletic teams haven't been greatly affected by the policy changes, the school is listed along with Aberdeen and Havre de Grace as having the largest percentage increases in ineligible students.

Aberdeen and Havre de Grace both reported a 50 percent rise. Bel Air had a 44 percent increase.

Other schools have reported decreases in the number of ineligible students, including North Harford, with a 22 percent drop, and Edgewood, with 10 percent fewer students declared ineligible compared with last year.

Though Harford is the 21st out of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions to implement a stronger policy, Joppatowne High switched a decade ago when it moved to a four-period day. The school recorded a decrease of 3 percent in ineligible students this fall.

"For the most part, our students stay eligible," said Mike Bauer, Joppatowne's athletic director. "Even if we went to a no-failure eligibility policy it wouldn't change the number of kids who participate."

And Harford Technical High, the smallest school in the district, had a 1 percent decrease. Fallston High saw little change.

The policy includes an appeal process for students who have been declared ineligible. Appeals increased from 58 in the last quarter of the 2003-2004 school year to 101 from the last quarter of the 2004-2005 school year, although about 80 percent of the appeals were denied.

In March the Athletic Legislative Committee will discuss proposals to add a probationary period for students declared ineligible. The period would give students a chance to raise their grades by the time progress reports are administered three weeks into the quarter.

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