Eligibility for athletics is tightened School board decides on minimum 2.0 GPA for extra activities; Highest standard in region; Most members also back removal of photo on calendar's cover


Saying that students will rise to meet expectations, the Howard County school board last night approved the toughest academic eligibility standards for high school sports and extracurricular activities in the Baltimore area.

Board members also discussed the decision by Howard schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey to replace the cover of the school system's calendar because the cover photo was deemed by many to be racially insensitive.

Most members said they support the decision to remove the 43,000 covers but questioned the cost and time it will take to replace it.

With the new eligibility policy, the board decided that Howard high school students must have at least a 2.0 grade-point average and no failing grades to be eligible to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities.

"I feel strongly that if we set high standards and expectations for students, they can strive to meet them," board member Linda Johnston said. "If an activity is so important to students, they should do enough" to stay eligible.

The board also eliminated a provision that allows failing students to improve their grades early in the season and regain their eligibility.

But a divided board decided not to eliminate summer school as an option for students to make up failing spring grades and become eligible for fall activities.

Even with the board's decision to retain the summer school option, Howard's new policy is the toughest in the Baltimore area.

Howard's current policy requires students to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average to be eligible but also allows them up to one failing grade.

Other area school systems allow either one or two failing grades, and most do not have any grade-point requirement.

The new policy will take effect for the winter sports season and will apply to all Howard students who participate in extracurricular activities -- about 70 percent of the county's 10,100 high school students.

But county high school principals, who proposed the tougher policy, say it primarily is aimed at athletics.

School officials have said few Howard students are in danger of running afoul of the new rules. Fewer than 200 of Howard's 4,250 athletes who were eligible to play sports last year would be ineligible under the new rules. The mean grade-point average of Howard athletes is 3.0.

As the board began considering the new policy this summer, it had received mixed reviews from the county's athletes and coaches. Some said students should be able to rise to meet the tougher standards, but others asked whether it will hurt students and cause some of them to drop out of school.

The executive committee of the county PTA Council testified against the provision not to allow students to have any failing grades, warning that it might discourage students from taking challenging courses.

Last night, board members and school officials addressed some of the concerns, saying the tougher standards will require the school system to act earlier to help students in danger of failing.

"I'd like to see that we provide our students with wings to fly rather than provide them a parachute after they've fallen off," said board member Karen Campbell. "Help them up front to keep them from getting an F."

Eugene Streagle, the county's instructional coordinator of high schools, also told the board that not allowing students to fail any classes is not too difficult a standard.

"Failing in the school system requires an effort," Streagle said. "You have to try to fail.

"We need to re-emphasize the student part of athlete and extracurricular activity. That's why we're here," he said.

In discussing the calendar flap, Hickey further defended his decision to spend as much as $5,700 to reprint the cover of the school system's calendar to replace the photo that drew criticism.

"What price do we put on the consequences of offending a significant portion of our community?" Hickey asked rhetorically.

Hickey said the photo -- a candid snapshot showing white students in the foreground and African-American and Asian students in the background -- was "an unacceptable representation of the school system's beliefs and diversity."

The same photo appeared on the cover of another school system publication and is one of 19 candid pictures of student groups displayed in the lobby of the school system's headquarters.

Hickey said he would have had no problem with the photo if it hadn't been the only one in the calendar.

"The calendar is the most important communication the school system has with the community and the picture is the initial focal point of the calendar," Hickey said.

A local printer not identified by Hickey has offered free printing, Hickey said, and the school system hopes that much of the work to remove the old covers and put on the new ones can be done by volunteers.

The free printing and volunteer work could substantially reduce the cost of replacing the calendar covers, Hickey said.

Other money will come from the school system's budget for publications -- and not classroom printing funds, he said.

Board members -- who have no authority over the administrative decision to reprint the covers -- agreed that the cover should be removed because of the photo, but not all of them agreed that the cover should be reprinted.

"I certainly would have removed the cover," Campbell said. "I would not have reprinted it for time's sake, if nothing else."

Pub Date: 8/23/96

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