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Hillsborough board still struggles with athletic appeals



Hillsborough County School Board members are increasingly exasperated by the athletic participation appeals process.

Meeting to rule on several appeals two hours before the Tuesday night board meeting, they allowed a Jefferson High School student to play softball after transferring from Blake High School, largely because of a conflict with her coach and a bullying situation involving another student.

It was an emotion-filled discussion in which board members ultimately decided to do what was best for the child. But, knowing the board was about to vote to settle a lawsuit involving the policy, member Cindy Stuart pushed to revise the whole process.

"We need to suspend this process until we get this entire policy right," Stuart said in break between the first and second hearing. "We are all over the map." Member Candy Olson agreed that the policy needs to be revised, and fast. "I'll come in on my off day," she said.

Things didn't get any better with the other cases, in which students complained about the coach, a loss of scholarship to an urban teaching program, and a journalism program that, in the words of one parent, was "garbage." Board member Doretha Edgecomb told the mother that recently, Blake hired a new journalism teacher who is excellent.

There was confusion about whether a child who divides her time between her mother and father had made "a full and complete move." More than one parent expressed confusion about the rules. In between cases, an equally frustrated Edgecomb said, "I'm not being cynical, but we might as well just bring the rest of the girls in and pass them."

But some were turned down.

Outgoing chairwoman April Griffin said to expect more discussion at the 5 p.m. meeting. And indeed, early into the meeting, member Candy Olson said, "I am keenly uncomfortable voting on all of these. We are all over the place."

The lawsuit, filed by Sickles High School senior Justin Fragnito, contends the whole policy is illegal because it goes beyond state law, which entitles students to play for the first school they entered in a given school year. In Hillsborough, unless a situation meets four set of criteria, the student must sit out a full calendar year if he or she transfers past freshman year. The board was expected to vote to approve the settlement, which allows Fragnito to play but is not an acknowledgement that the process is flawed.

The board, meanwhile, has been revising its policies in a series of workshops that could last through January. School board attorney Jim Porter suggested that the board add the athletic policy to a list of topics it is taking up in workshops on Dec. 2. Changing the policy, however, will require a public hearing.

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 8:37pm]


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