The Prince William County School Board last week approved 5 to 2 a resolution that will raise the grade requirements for students participating in sports-related activities, making Prince William the first county school district in Northern Virginia to have such a requirement. The city of Alexandria approved a similar resolution last year.
Under the rule, students who wish to participate in sports, marching band, drill teams or cheerleading will be required to earn a passing (D) mark in three subjects with a C or better in two subjects. Under the policy grades will be checked every six weeks. The resolution, introduced by Neabsco board member Regis Lacey, was a modified version of one recommended by superintendent Richard Johnson last month. Johnson's version would have required a passing grade in two subjects and a C in three. The rule becomes effective in September 1986.
The Alexandria school district requires an average of C, or a 1.55 grade-point average, for school athletes. All other Northern Virginia school districts use the Virginia High School League rule, which says that students involved in extracurricular activities must earn at least a D in five subjects.
The resolution was also amended to include an appeals process for those students who, despite their best efforts, are unable to meet the new grade requirements. The amendment to establish the process whereby a student can appeal his or her ineligibility to school officials was introduced by vice chairman Ilona Salmon, who said she made the suggestion after hearing concerns voiced at the Nov. 21 School Board meeting by members George Mullin and Maureen Caddigan. Mullin and Caddigan cast the only dissenting votes on the final resolution.
According to figures supplied by the school staff at Caddigan's request, 85 students, 81 of them male, would have been ineligible for sports this year if the board had adopted the three-C rule. The report said that 812 of the county's 11,655 high school students are currently involved in some form of athletics.
In the report requested by Caddigan, in which he asked the staff to find out how many students of the several thousand students participating in nonathletic extracurricular activities would be affected, figures show that 187 students would have been ineligible this year under the three-C rule.
Despite the modified version of the resolution approved by the board, Johnson said he was pleased with it. Details of the appeals process, which could include meetings with the school principal, a guidance counselor and teachers, have not yet been worked out, he said.
"That's one of the reasons I voted against it," Caddigan said. "Even if we took two more months to work out the details of this resolution, we would still have plenty of time to implement it in September. What was the rush?"
Mullin opposed the resolution, he said, because it discriminated against athletes. "I had to look behind me to see if the American flag was still there when I heard this resolution," he told the board. "I believe our Constitution guarantees equal rights under the law. This resolution does not." If students can graduate with only a passing grade in five subjects, he argued, why must we demand more for participation in athletics? "Is this a witch hunt?"
A report requested by the board last year showed that 95 percent of Prince William County's 115,000 students are achieving at or above the C level. According to Salmon, the board decided to impose the higher grade requirement only on athletes because "sports are so time-consuming."
Said Salmon, "A basketball player not only practices every day, for instance, he or she could play up to two games a week. This rule is not designed to prohibit students from athletic participation; it is a motivational tool to encourage them to do better."
None of the parents who addressed the board on the resolution spoke against it, although a parent who asked not to be identified said her child, who was born with a learning disability, did not raise his grade level until he became involved in high school sports.
"If this rule had been in effect this year, I'm sure my son would still just be getting by academically," she said. Several board members said later they agreed that, for some students, extracurricular involvement raises self-esteem, which in turn affects grades.
When Johnson proposed the resolution early last month, he cited Texas as a state that approved a policy last year requiring athletes to get a passing grade in all their courses in order to participate in a sport. When the education reform package took effect last spring, news sources said, hundreds of high school athletes were sidelined. This fall, 85 percent of the state's varsity football players passed every course. "If we ask our students to do only the minimum, that is the gauge we'll be measured by," Johnson said.