The question of whether student athletes and other participants in extracurricular activities in the should meet a minimum academic standard will again fall to a committee after the Board of Education voted Thursday to return a proposed policy to that level.
The board voted 6-1 to refer the matter to the policy committee. The decision came a day after a and preempted Superintendent Nicholas Fischer’s suggestion that it go to a third reading and vote at the January meeting.
The policy as drafted would —the equivalent of a C- average—to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports teams and clubs in the 2012-2013 academic year. The policy would raise the standard to a 2.0 minimum GPA in the 2013-2014 academic year.
The policy said students who do not meet the minimum would be placed on academic probation and receive academic support to help improve their grades. Students who fail to improve their grades by the end of the probationary period would be ineligible for participation in extracurricular activities until the next grading period to determine if their grades have improved.
Board member Peg Curtin motioned for the policy to be returned to committee, saying she wanted further discussion to take place.
“I have a lot to say, but I’ll certainly say it at Policy [Committee],” she said.
Secretary Jason Catala said he initially favored setting the minimum requirement at a 2.0 GPA, but that he was moved by opinion’s offered at Wednesday’s hearing. Coaches and members of the public raised concerns there including the suggestion that the policy was discriminatory by only addressing certain students, that it could drive students to drop out or go to schools with less stringent policies, and that it could deprive students of positive influences on teams and clubs. Catala said he supported a review of the ordinance in the policy committee, which he chairs.
Board member Delanna Muse raised a separate concern, saying the district is responsible for providing a sound education and that a 1.7 GPA requirement sets the bar too low.
“We need to increase their expectations and start at a 2.0,” she said.
Jessica Fort, a student representative to the board from and captain of the school’s track and field team, agreed. She said she felt student athletes will take greater pride in their work if expectations are higher.
“They can always be a good athlete, but having education first is really important to me…It’s kind of sad that our school is known for athletics first,” she said.
Fischer said the policy is part of the district’s effort to improve academic achievement. He said that under the requirements for participation in Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference sports, student athletes can currently participate in teams with a GPA of under 1.0.
Fischer said students are entitled to take part in extracurricular activities but must be responsible for their own actions. He said the policy also acknowledges the schools’ responsibility in providing students the skills they will need to succeed after graduation.
“Until last year we were quite comfortable graduating students who were functionally illiterate,” he said.
Board member Barbara Major said she the schools need to ensure that students have the skills needed to achieve in the next grade level before approving their advancement.
“If these children aren’t passing the [Connecticut Mastery Tests], why are they being passed along?” she asked.
President Bill Morse, who was the sole member to vote against Curtin’s motion, said he would like the policy committee to work on a complementary policy to address the issue of achievement in lower grades. He said the policy should address how the schools can assist students who are not meeting requirements, who will help these students, and how this support can be paid for.
“The message I got last night was we’re working in isolation with just the high school students, and I agree,” he said.