Nearly two-thirds of the black male students in Anne Arundel County high schools are ineligible to participate in athletics under the Board of Education's newly adopted policy requiring a minimum grade point average of 2.0.
Figures compiled by the school superintendent's staff show that 60 percent of the black males are ineligible under the new standards, and 70 percent of the ninth-graders would be ineligible.
Under the old standard of 1.6, 40 percent would be ineligible.
"I support the 2.0, but I find it troublesome the number of black students affected by this policy," said Vincent O. Leggett, board president. "I don't know how we can leave that many people disenfranchised."
The statistics, delivered in a report on the effects of the new GPA policy on students, came as a shock to board members.
"How did we let 70 percent of the system remain uninvolved?" asked board member Jo Ann Tollenger. "How can [black male students] get into the gifted and talented program? How can they get into college?
"It's a shame we're not paying attention at the early levels," she added.
The board voted Aug. 5 to raise the minimum GPA for athletes to 2.0.
While many parents, students and coaches agreed the change was necessary, they complained they were left out of the decision.
They were angered that the policy applies only to athletes and by a provision that prohibits students with one failing grade from participating in a sport unless he or she improves that grade within 20 days.
During that period, the student is not allowed to practice or participate in team activities.
At each board meeting after their decision, board members were flooded with complaints over the new policies.
Superintendent C. Berry Carter II asked staff members to re-examine the issue and make suggestions for amending the policy.
It was during that re-examination that the figures on black males emerged.
"The one thing that reached out and grabbed me was [the statistics]," said board member Thomas Twombly. "We are failing our minority students.
"What this says to me is that by the time I get to ninth grade, and I'm black, if I'm going to be the big man on campus, I have to be an athlete," he added.
Mr. Carter said he questioned the validity of the numbers presented to the board members, saying, "It kind of a jumps from data in the past."
"I think a lot of [the uninvolvement by black males] has to do with no activity buses," Mr. Carter said. "There's also a lack of interest among some students. And I believe we have a large number of youngsters working who just don't have the time to participate in school activities.
"The problem isn't unique to this school system. It's a problem across the country," he added.
Mr. Leggett said he hopes the issue of black student achievement will not become "dwarfed" in the discussion on the GPA increase.
"This is also about academic eligibility," Mr. Leggett said. "There's an element in our school family that needs attention immediately, and it is on the critical list."