IN LIKE A LION, out like a...


IN LIKE A LION, out like a lamb: That was the "no pass, no play" provision for Howard County schools, which garnered a lot of attention when it was introduced as Maryland's toughest standard for students to take part in extracurricular activities, but won approval last month without similar fanfare.

The provision bars students from playing for a sports team or in the band or writing for the school paper if they fail to maintain a 2.0 grade point average and flunk any course.

Howard's PTA leadership and coaches opposed the initiative on grounds that it might discourage kids for whom a spot on a team is their main motivation for attending school.

This was not, however, a tough proposal for the board to approve. In our education system as well as in other areas of public policy, society is demanding greater accountability and responsibility. Politically, the school board didn't have to withstand great pressure because this provision affects but a handful of student-athletes, a number of whom come from lower-income homes with scant parental support or political clout. If this change impacted more middle-class households, the board would have found itself sweating out tough questions in a packed meeting room.

It's hard to fault the board, though. It sought to send an unambiguous message about the proper priority of the schools. Even opponents must concede the point by Eugene Streagle, instructional coordinator of high schools: "Failing in the school system requires an effort."

Officials should closely track students in jeopardy of being kicked off a team, since those cases are apt to generate the most controversy. Howard does not want to find itself in an uproar like Minneapolis two years ago, when two stars on a state basketball championship contender got failing grades hours before the title game, keeping them on the bench. Many Minnesotans thought the 11th-hour exclusion was unfair to them, and to their innocent teammates.

The National Federation of State High School Associations also recalls a special-ed student who feared being "mainstreamed," because the more challenging work could cost his coveted spot on a team. There are pitfalls for the system to avoid with the new rule, as well as the student-athletes and others who will have to buckle down to make the grade.

Pub Date: 9/13/96

Students first; Howard County: Pressure on school board about 'no pass, no play' may be yet to come.

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