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Sit-to-play proposal seems to make a positive first impression

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Tue. July 17, 2012 | Joey Knight | Email

TAMPA — Technically, Hillsborough County School Board members can’t sign off on athletic director Lanness Robinson’s proposed transfer policy until fall at the earliest.

But Tuesday morning, they seemed to reach an agreement in principle on the basic terms.

Robinson’s proposal, which calls for any county student-athlete who transfers after their initial high school enrollment to sit out a year, was mostly embraced by the board during its workshop Tuesday morning in a stuffy second-floor conference room at the district’s downtown headquarters.

Only board chairperson Candy Olson (previous engagement) was absent when the issue arose for discussion, which generally seemed in favor of prospective transfer student-athletes being required to appeal their case in front of a committee of impartial administrators before being cleared to participate.

“To gain their support the first time they actually were able to see it and hear about it means that we’re headed in the right direction, I think,” Robinson said.

The proposal, which Robinson said has been in various planning stages for years, arrives in the wake of two major developments: Armwood being stripped of its 2011 state football title for using five ineligible players, and the controversial passage of House Bill 1403.

The latter, signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year, allows student-athletes to transfer in the middle of a school year and be eligible immediately if their sport hasn’t begun. The key stipulation: The transfer must be approved by the local school district.

“House Bill 1403 really was the driving force,” Robinson said.

Exceptions to the one-year sit-out rule would be considered by the committee, which likely would include one district-level administrator, two senior high principals, two senior high assistant principals and four school board-appointed community members. It would meet once a month or perhaps more frequently.

Exceptions include families who make a “full and complete move” to a new residence, students forced to move due to court order or death of a guardian, or those reassigned by the school district for non-sports or non-disciplinary reasons.

But until going before the committee, students trying to move to a high school at which they didn't initially enroll could not participate in athletics.

“The committee would make a decision that day, based on the information provided to them,” Robinson said. “At that point, the student would be allowed to participate or not be allowed to participate.”

Currently, student-athlete participation is determined by individual schools. At Armwood, a lengthy Florida High School Athletic Association  probe revealed the families of five Hawks players gained enrollment at the school by presenting falsified residence data to school administrators.

“The whole idea of this is, we have checks on whether or not parents are giving us the truth,” superintendent MaryEllen Elia said. “All of those things are part of this appeal process with a committee of people, who at the end will determine whether or not that student is eligible to play.”

Board member Susan Valdes described Robinson’s proposal as “awesome.” Fellow member Doretha Edgecomb suggested forming a diverse focus group of student-athletes to communicate the new policy to their peers.

“I think we need to hear student voices,” she said.

Another workshop is planned, with the proposal tentatively set to be placed on the agenda for the July 31 school board meeting. A 28-day advertisement period follows so the public can familiarize itself. Any feedback received from the public will be discussed at the Sept. 11 board meeting.

If no changes are suggested and the board passes the proposal, it could be implemented by the second semester of the 2012-13 school year.

“It sounds very drastic, but pretty much the transfer issue is a percentage of people,” Robinson said. “You make rules for people who are going to violate them, so that’s kind of what we’re doing.”

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@tampabay.com

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