We ask too little of public school students. Knowing full well that most children do what they have to do, we set standards too low. A high school diploma doesn't mean much any more. That is why the Anne Arundel County Board of Education has done the right thing in raising the minimum grade requirement for student-athletes. It's irresponsible to let students play football if they're faring poorly in class. A 2.0 grade point average and at least a "D" in every class is not too much to ask.
We must give students time to adjust, however. If the board's new standards take effect in January as planned, hundreds of athletes who want to bring up their grades will be ineligible because they haven't had time to improve. That's not fair. Nor is it fair to single out athletes, when the same "academics first" standard ought apply to the drama club, the yearbook staff and the band.
As the board refines its policy, it should include all extra-curricular activities and phase in the tougher standards. Why not impose the 2.0 average this year, but wait until next year to require students to pass all their classes? This year, let students who fail a class practice during the 20- day probationary period. But let them know that next year the probationary period will be for study only.
Sadly, the 2.0 average will exact an immediate toll on black males, 60 percent of whom are averaging below a "C" right now. Some argue that the higher GPA unfairly penalizes this group of students. But, in the long run, is it not more unfair to let them get by without the basic skills they will need once high school football has become a memory? If the new requirements force educators to discover why black students are failing and help them improve, they will have proven their worth.
A committee that studied the new requirements wants the school board to soften its position. The board should stand its ground. Sports are an important part of high school life, and for some students the only reason for staying in school. But young people must see that life does not revolve around sports. The GPA policy needs a few revisions, but it lets students know that if they hope to succeed in life they need to cultivate their minds as well as their bodies. School board members would do students a disservice if they dilute that message.