Howard Co. plan: Fail, and forget extra activities Eligibility standards for students would be toughest in the area; Policy before school board; Idea has drawn a mixed reaction from sports coaches

Howard County students with failing grades in any classes would not be allowed to play high school sports or participate in any other extracurricular activities under a proposal that would make the county's academic eligibility requirements the toughest in the Baltimore area.

The new policy -- which could take effect in time for this coming season of basketball and other winter sports -- also would prohibit students from using summer school to regain eligibility and would eliminate a Howard schools' provision giving failing athletes a chance during the season to improve their grades and begin playing at midseason.


Now before the Howard school board, the proposal was created by high school principals to simplify and toughen the eligibility standards for participation in extracurricular activities, said Donald Disney, the Howard schools' coordinator of athletics.

"We felt the priority for students should be academics," said David Bruzga, principal of Columbia's Long Reach High School. "Students will rise to meet the expectations that are set for them, as long as those expectations are reasonable. A 2.0 grade-point average and no failing grades are reasonable."


If approved by the Howard school board, the changes would make Howard's athletic-eligibility policy the toughest in the Baltimore area.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association -- the governing body for high school sports in the state -- does not set any eligibility standards for athletes, but 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 a class but requires a 2.0 grade-point average for eligibility.

Baltimore and Carroll counties permit students to fail a class and do not have a grade-point average requirement.

In Baltimore City, athletes can fail two classes and still be eligible.

Harford students can fail some classes but have to pass at least five classes each marking period and stay on track for graduation.

In Howard, the proposed changes have drawn mixed reaction from coaches.


"The one thing I have some reservations about is saying students can't fail any classes at all," said Dave Greenberg, girls' basketball and soccer coach and guidance counselor at Centennial High School in Ellicott City, who otherwise favors toughening standards.

"We're supposed to encourage kids to challenge themselves, but they might be reluctant to do that if there's a chance they'll fail and lose their eligibility," Greenberg said.

The proposal was presented to the school board last week and will be the subject of a public hearing July 25.

Board members -- who reacted favorably when told of the new policy -- are scheduled to vote on it Aug. 22.

The proposed changes could affect a large number of Howard's 10,100 high school students, about 70 percent of whom participate in a sport or an extracurricular activity.

But fewer than 200 of the county's approximately 4,250 athletes likely would be in danger of running afoul of the new rules.


Right now, about 60 Howard athletes have one failing grade while maintaining a 2.0 grade-point average, and another 100 county students take advantage of the provision allowing them to gain athletic eligibility at midseason, Disney said.

A handful of students also go to summer school each year to try to improve their grades to become eligible.

The average grade-point average for Howard's athletes is a 3.0.

The school system does not have an estimate of how many students might be ruled ineligible next winter for nonathletic extracurricular activities under the proposed policy.

Lee Stevens, the director of bands at Columbia's Atholton High School, said that students participating in extracurricular music activities at his school rarely run afoul of the system's current academic eligibility requirements, and that a few more might have problems under the new policy.

"I'm worried about the not-failing-one-class rule," he said. "For a lot of these kids, the music is all they're good at."


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

For students with an average below 2.0 and only one failing grade, the policy allows them to set up contracts with their coaches, parents and educators requiring them to improve their grades over the first month to six weeks of the season. Under these contracts -- known in Howard as the "plan" -- they're allowed to practice but not play with teams until they have reached a 2.0 average in their classes.

But the contracts have proven to be a problem for high school administrators charged with overseeing the paperwork and making sure that students don't play in any games until they've raised their grades, Disney said.

The new policy also is a reaction to changes in class schedules at Howard high schools, many of which have changed to new schedules that have just four lengthy classes a day. "In a four-period schedule, if you've failed a course, that's 25 percent of your time," Disney said.

Howard coaches are concerned about students who might be affected by the proposed policy.

"The kids this will hurt are the ones who are coming from homes where they're not getting much support -- the kids who are struggling to come to school every day," said Doug Duvall, a teacher and football coach at Columbia's Wilde Lake High School. "You can only raise the bar so high before kids just give up trying."


But Howard principals are pledging they'll work with failing students earlier to make sure they keep up their grades before the season starts.

"We're already trying to identify students who will need the help," said Atholton High School principal Roger Plunkett. "We're setting up an academic plan so they won't fail before the season starts, and not a sports plan afterward so they can raise their grades enough to play."

Pub Date: 7/03/96