Saturday, January 20, 2018
Education

New athletic rules could make school transfers easier in Hillsborough

TAMPA — A student athletics transfer policy that stymied Hillsborough County families and school officials is coming under major revisions that could give kids more ways to change schools.

The rules, which previously allowed transfer students to play under only four sets of criteria, would become far more broad if the policy is approved by the Hillsborough County School Board.

For example: If a family can no longer afford a private school, the child can transfer to his or her neighborhood public school and play the same year.

But while the new policy creates more opportunities for transfer students, families will have to present all their evidence to a transfer committee, with less chance of reversal by the elected School Board.

"You will review that record and not hold a brand new hearing and not consider new evidence," board attorney Jim Porter said as the School Board considered the changes during a workshop Monday.

Athletic transfers have been a challenge for the district's 27 high schools since Armwood High School had to give up a state football title because of an eligibility scandal.

In creating its new system in 2012, the district took decision-making away from school principals, who have a vested interest in admitting star athletes.

As the rules now stand, an athlete who transfers after ninth grade must sit out a full calendar year. A district committee can reverse that decision, based on exceptions that include a change in legal guardianship or the district's decision to move a child because of learning disabilities.

The School Board makes the final call, and the board has spent long meetings this year considering cases of students who did not like their coaches, families who were disappointed by magnet programs, and hardship issues such as illness in the family.

The process has distracted a board that should be more concerned with academics, said member Candy Olson. "Our real work is supposed to be how kids are learning and how teachers are teaching," she said.

The list of new allowable exceptions includes some that have come before the board in the appeals. The committee can grant playing privileges to students who find magnet programs too difficult; for example, the rigorous International Baccalaureate programs. Transportation issues will also be permitted reasons. If a child moves to care for a sick parent or grandparent, that situation could be considered.

Member April Griffin called for leniency and flexibility, as many students and families have transient lives that could easily make the kids ineligible to play.

But district athletics director Lanness Robinson was troubled by a revision that allows transfers when students move from one parent's home to another in cases of divorce or separation.

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

The board agreed that instead of listing a divorce as an acceptable reason, the committee will consider "family hardship" that might include divorce.

And the revised policy will tell families that they will be scrutinized for multiple moves.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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