Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Hillsborough School Board official out of bounds

Hillsborough School Board chairwoman April Griffin had no business intervening on behalf of a high school student who was suspended from the tennis team because of eligibility problems. The head of the nation's eighth-largest school system clearly didn't learn anything from the district's Armwood High School scandal in 2011, when families falsified their residencies to get students on the winning football team. Her extraordinary effort to substitute her authority for the staff's discretion crossed the line for an elected official.

Griffin went off on her own last month, appealing to the state's sanctioning organization for scholastic sports on behalf of a Plant High School student who was suspended from the tennis team. School officials received an anonymous tip this year that the student was living at a house other than that listed to qualify her for the Plant school zone.

Over a two-week period, school officials tried but failed to get anyone at the house to answer the door. According to a district investigation, the parents later told school officials they lived "part-time" at two residences in Tampa. The district found that the living arrangements did not meet the standard for assigning the student to Plant. The state's athletic sanctioning body, the Florida High School Athletic Association, heard an appeal, but backed up the school district.

Griffin took up the case for no good reason. She attended an out-of-town hearing on the case — her first ever as a school board member — and last month urged the FHSAA to overturn the decision in a letter written on district stationery and "in my capacity as the chairwoman." It was a misuse of her position and bad judgment not to consider the implications her lobbying would have on the already difficult job of ensuring a level playing field in interscholastic sports.

Griffin defended her actions by saying the district went too far to investigate the family. That's ridiculous. Schools across the state routinely conduct checks on student-athletes to confirm they are not falsifying addresses to move around like free agents to powerhouse schools. In fact, Hillsborough redoubled its checks after Armwood.

And this case has nothing to do with the FHSAA or sports, anyway. The issue is not whether the student was eligible to play tennis at Plant but whether she was eligible to attend Plant at all. If Griffin had a problem with the district's residency rules, she should have worked within the system she leads to change them. Instead she flouted the chain of command and sent parents the wrong message about fair play in athletics.

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