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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough board revisits athletic policy



Once again, the Hillsborough County School Board is trying to fine-tune the district's process of determining althetic eligibility for transfer students.

As the board sits as a sort of appellate body when students are not allowed to play, it's a hot topic. Under the current policy -- which a local lawyer already has challenged in court -- a student must sit out a full calendar year of play if he changes schools after ninth grade. A committee can reverse that decision if the student meets one of four sets of criteria, including a "full and complete move" by the family.

So far, they've gone back and forth over whether the committee that rules on these transfers should have one assistant principal, two assistant principals, or a combination of three principals and/or assistants.

Now come the more substantive changes:

A draft prepared by attorney Jim Porter says board members cannot hear new evidence that was not offered to the transfer committee. Too often, in the new process, they were moved by compelling situations that had not been brought to the committee.

In addition, the burden of proof would be on the student to demonstrate that he meets one of the exceptions under the policy. "Only evidence that is relevant to the criteria listed for the exceptions shall be considered" by the committee.

Board members like what they're hearing. But some wonder if students and parents are informed of all the rules before they change schools.

At the same time, some board members are frustrated that so much of their time has been taken up by the cases.

"Our real work is supposed to be how kids are learning and how teachers are teaching," said member Candy Olson, who added that sometimes she feels the board is "played" by parents who come in with emotional appeals. Member Doretha Edgecomb agreed that it would be best if, eventually, the board gets out of the business of hearing appeals.

Member April Griffin, meanwhile, thinks the board also consider the role of the Florida High School Athletic Association, and how its rules sometimes conflict with policies the district has for which school a student might attend. Viewing an FHSAA manual, she said, "That book and all of those rules are hurting our kids."

Porter's document also gave students a lot more latitude in transferring and playing.  The list of exceptions would expand to include students leaving private school for academic reasons, students leaving magnet programs because of academic difficulties, and students who move from one parent's home to another, for whatever reason.

Athletic director Lanness Robinson had trouble with the last provision, saying families will take advantage and students might try to switch schools every time they want to play a new sport.

"I hate to sound cynical, but we've heard every excuse under the sun," Robinson said. "I our world, it's called 'house jumping.'"

Look for language in the final policy that will discourage students from making multiple transfers.

[Last modified: Monday, December 2, 2013 3:49pm]


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