Harford school board debates extracurricular eligibility changes

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A proposal to ease eligibility requirements for Harford County Public Schools students to participate in extracurricular activities was hotly debated among school board members earlier this week.

Among the options board members discussed during their meeting Monday night are allowing students who fail a class in the fourth quarter but pass the class for the year to be eligible for a fall activity, or moving to a 2.0 grade point average across-the-board with no more than one E in a class to be eligible to participate in an activity during any season.

The policy, Participation in Extracurricular Activities, is one of several up for review by the school board and discussed Monday. Other policies included Report Cards and Marking System, Education of Homeless Students, Boundary Exceptions and School Transfers and Board Officers — Elections and Terms of Office.

The existing extracurricular activity policy was amended in November 2007 and precludes a student who gets an E in any subject on his or her report card from participating in any extracurricular activity, including sports, drama or any other event or program.

No action was taken on the policy Monday; board President Joseph Voskuhl said they would wait until the public comment period closes, then vote on his proposal to change to a less stringent policy.

“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, and from my background in coaching and as principal, the old policy was if you get a failing grade in the fourth quarter, you’re ineligible for fall programs — drama, sports — in the first quarter [of the next year],” said Voskuhl, a former principal of Bel Air High School. “People felt that was unfair.”

A student could have had Bs in three quarters but had “something happen” in the fourth quarter that caused him or her to fail, and thus be ineligible to participate in a fall activity, Voskuhl said. Fall eligibility should depend on the student’s overall grade, not their fourth-quarter grade, he said.

“It’s fairer to use the year grade because it reflects everything done for the year, not just one quarter,” he said.

The proposal from Voskuhl did not sit well with board members Robert Frisch and Joseph Hau, who said it showed a lack of consistency.

“Where is the consistency there?” Frisch asked. “Part of the whole process of discipline and accountability is that there’s consistency across the board.”

If a situation such as Voskuhl suggested were to arise, Frisch said, the student can go through the appeal process, where any extenuating circumstances would be considered and an appeal likely granted.

“I think this is very bad precedent-setting. If that’s what you’re going to do, why don’t you just scrap the entire policy and say if you get a failing grade, you can go ahead and play?” Frisch, a former high school teacher and coach, asked. “The idea is to hold students accountable because school is about education first and the extracurriculars are a benefit for taking care of the business.”

Hau agreed with Frisch that what Voskuhl suggested would not be fair to the students who get a failing grade in the first, second or third quarter and can’t participate in extracurricular activities.

If a student gets 100 percent in three quarters and an E in the fourth, they will still have a 75 percent overall grade, a passing grade, for the year, Hau said.

“It seems inherently unfair that if there’s an E in the fourth quarter instead of the second, there are no repercussions as far as sacrificing the sport,” Hau said.

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick suggested what he said could be “a more equitable way” to do what Voskuhl is trying to achieve and not necessarily penalize someone for having a bad quarter.

“If that’s the case, why not have a policy based on the average of the four quarters, or some variation?” he offered.

Board member Al Williamson said outside activities are more important to some students than others.

“It’s just critical they get every break to play,” Williamson said. “It seems to me that because they didn’t do well one time, that’s such a harsh ruling. To consider over the last couple grading periods seems much more fair.”

Board member Rachel Gauthier said Voskuhl’s suggestion of a 2.0 average, rather than the overall grade in each course, as the determining factor in eligibility is a fair one.

In her house, she said, they talk about how everybody is bad at something, that everybody can’t be good at everything. Too much pressure is put on students to be good at everything, Gauthier said.

Setting a standard of a 2.0 grade point average for any quarter, with no more than one failing grade of the eight classes creates equity for everyone, regardless of the sport or extracurricular they might be in, she said.

“It allows for everybody to have a mess-up once in a while. It shouldn’t be life changing,” Gauthier said. “A lot of kids come to school because they love extracurriculars. We don’t want to take that away from them. Some buy into it because they get to do drama, or they get to do swimming, or they get to do baseball. I think it has to be that we’re looking at the whole kid, not just this one thing.”

Frisch disagreed.

“We are grading the haves and the have-nots, and it’s always been one of my biggest bones of contention in this school system is about inequities across [the board],” he said. “This legitimizes the inequity in the school system. This is not what we want to be talking to our students about. We talk about accountability. You have accountability for all kinds of things. This undermines that accountability and it’s a bad path to take.”

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