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Pasco school district proposes sitting athletes who transfer one year

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Tue. April 2, 2013 | Matt Baker | Email

LAND O’LAKES — Student-athletes who change schools after the start of ninth grade could be sidelined from sports one year under a proposal presented Tuesday during a Pasco School Board workshop.

“I think it’s a shame we have to institute something like this,” district athletic director Phil Bell told the board during a meeting at the district offices. “But we do.”

Under the proposal, students who change schools for any reason would be unable to participate in sports until a seven-person committee approved their transfer. The committee — made up of one district administrator, two principals, two assistant principals and two community members — would meet regularly and have 30 days to consider whether a student should be cleared to play immediately.

Pasco’s proposal is modeled after a Hillsborough County policy that took effect this year.

The specific details are still being worked out, but Bell listed a few clear cases where students wouldn’t have to sit out: If their parents made a full and complete move, if the district forced them to change schools because of rezoning or other issues, or if the students suffered hardships like the death of a parent or guardian.

“You wouldn’t want to hold a student out for something like that,” Bell said.

Schools have been struggling to deal with flurries of athletics-related transfers for decades. Board member Steve Luikart said he knew of one student who lived with one parent during football season and the other parent during baseball season so he could compete at different schools.

But recent legislation has made it necessary for the district to act, Bell said.

When HB 1403 became a state law in July, it took some eligibility power away from the Florida High School Athletic Association and gave it to districts and private schools. Hillsborough County adopted a policy that took effect this year, after 1403 became law. 

Another bill sitting in a House subcommittee, HB 1279, would go even further, making all students eligible for sports if their district approves the transfer.

But that would make it easy for students to change schools for athletic, not academic reasons, or to play football at one school and transfer to another in the spring just to play baseball.

“We need to have something in place, without a doubt,” Luikart said.

Bell said the committee’s scrutiny would force some parents to rethink why they’re changing their children’s schools and could deter some movements. He also said inaction could lead to rules violations, which can lead to lengthy investigations and fines or forfeits.

“We can’t afford to make some of these mistakes,” Bell said. “It’s time to put something in.”

During discussions Tuesday, the board considered some clarifications to the proposed policy, including how to process clear-cut cases quickly so children don’t have to sit out unnecessarily.

If students move in with their parents from out of state, would they have to go before the committee at a hearing? Could the committee approve them immediately after checking their paperwork? Could only one person sign off on it?

“I think we’re going to have to look at those situations — how we can expedite making decisions like that,” Bell said.

Discussion also drifted to where parents could appeal a ruling — to the superintendent’s office, or to the school board.

“I do not want to hear hearings of whether my son should be able to transfer to play baseball,” board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said. “We deal with policy. That I feel like is administrative.”

Bell said the specific procedures remain a work in progress. He plans to discuss other districts’ policies with county athletic directors, and he and the district’s staff will continue to tweak the proposal before the board votes on it.

Superintendent Kurt Browning hopes to bring the policy back for a first reading at the board’s April 16 meeting.

“I was encouraged that the board seemed to be really receptive,” Bell said. “I think folks in the room recognized there may be a need, and it might be the time for this.”

Times staff writer Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report. Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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