A Pasco School District attempt to ensure fair play in high school athletics carries an unintended consequence for some at-risk students, and the school board should fix the inequity.
A first-year policy requires varsity athletes to sit out a year of inter-scholastic sports after transferring high schools – a requirement modeled after Hillsborough County's rules to discourage illegal recruiting. It's a hard-line stance with a noble goal that followed high-profile cheating scandals at football programs at Armwood High School in Hillsborough and at Land O' Lakes High School. Notably, Pasco officials wanted consistent policies to limit Hillsborough student/athletes from attempting to transfer across the county lines.
But, as Pasco School Board member Steve Luikart points out, the policy puts an undue burden on students moving from the Pasco district's two alternative schools back to their original high schools. That needs to change. The district's Harry Schwettman and James Irvin education centers are schools of last resort for troubled students who otherwise face expulsion. Students are sent to the alternative schools under administrative transfers and are allowed to return to their zoned high schools — usually at the start of the next school year — if they show improved attendance, behavior and academic performances.
Under the athletic-transfer policy, those students need to apply for a district waiver to return to the varsity teams at their former schools. Luikart said the policy unfairly penalized a Ridgewood High School football player who had to sit down for a game at midseason because neither his coach nor the school's administrators recognized the waiver requirement.
"That kid never made a mistake'' regarding the waiver, said Luikart. "If adults make a mistake, don't take it out on the kid.''
More important than the oversight at Ridgewood, is the overriding notion of making at-risk students jump over hurdles to participate in extracurricular activities. Interscholastic athletics are considered a key drop-out prevention tool for secondary schools that teach students the value of commitment, teamwork, time-management and other life skills. Keeping previously troubled students after school for activities supervised by adults also reduces the opportunities for renewed bad behavior.
The district shouldn't discourage the former alternative school students from resuming their prep sports activities. The School Board would be wise to rewrite its transfer policy to exempt these students from its athletic waiver requirement. To do so would ensure the fair play rule is actually applied fairly.