Jason Baker begins school at 7:30 every morning.

The Westlake High School senior takes honors English, honors physics, pre-calculus and advanced placement government and politics. During one period, he works as a teacher's aide.

When school lets out, he goes straight to the gym for practice--either football or cross-country. He can be sure of at least one weekend day of practice.

It's a packed schedule for an 18-year-old who is also in the midst of applying to college. Yet somehow he managed to earn a grade-point average of 3.5 while playing fall sports, he said.

"I try to plan and organize my time," he said. "It's kind of hard to do everything."

When Board of Education members say that requiring student-athletes to earn a minimum grade-point average of 1.75 (on a 4.0 scale) is way too low, it doesn't really bother Baker. But he knows that raising the standard could strip some student-athletes of their eligibility.

"I think you should be able to get at least a C in school," he said.

Then he pauses. "I guess for some kids, a 1.75 is a little bit difficult."

Baker's indecision gets to the crux of a debate going on in Charles County public schools.

Recently, the school board was presented with a report that said 2.5 percent--or 39--of the county's 1,536 student-athletes had GPAs ranging from 1.75 to 1.99. The rest of the students--1,497--who participated in fall sports this school year maintained an average of 2.0 or higher.

Some school board members balked when reminded that a 1.75--not quite a C average--is all that is required of student-athletes. Students who fall below that are placed on probation until their grades improve. Several school districts have stricter policies. Calvert County redefined and raised its standard this year, moving from a 2.0 minimum requirement to a 70 percent standard, which is more akin to a C-plus.

"We felt our standards should get tougher," said Brian Stevens, supervisor of athletics in Calvert.

In Charles, some are eager to follow suit, arguing that the 1.75 minimum requirement is extremely lenient.

"It's sending the wrong message," said board member Sharon W. Caniglia. "What are we in the business for?"

"A minimum of a 2.0 GPA is absolutely necessary," said Margaret Young, another board member.

The average GPA for student-athletes has been declining during the past few years, according to the report. In the 1996-1997 school year, the average was 3.15. The following year, it was 3.1. Last year, the GPA declined below a 3.0 to 2.936. During the fall season of the current school year, the GPA improved slightly to 2.98.

School board members agreed to reexamine the minimum requirement once staff members provide them with a more in-depth report of student-athletes' grades, leaving open the possibility that the policy could be revised.

That would not be so bad in some coaches' eyes.

"I'm sorry. If you can't handle that, I personally don't think you should be playing anyway," said Linda Curry, the softball and volleyball coach at Thomas Stone High School.

If her players have to miss a daily practice session to take care of a school matter, Curry said, she excuses them. When Scholastic Assessment Test time rolls around, she gives them a bit of a break.

"It is all a matter of priorities," she said.

Others argue that raising the minimum GPA would mean that some students who might otherwise not excel at anything else would be kept from an outlet for their talents.

"If that's all they can do, then we have no business setting them up to not be part of that," said school board member Mary L. Haff.

"No matter how hard we try, there will be kids who just can't hack it," she said. "They need to leave school feeling that they have accomplished something."

The high school principals say they have support systems in place for the students, including after-school tutoring, study halls and frequent progress reports to identify those students who need help.

"It's not that we don't want high academic achievement, because we do," said Jervie Petty, principal of Lackey High School in Indian Head. "I don't think there's a principal anywhere who wants across-the-board mediocrity. We also want to make sure that we're not hampering some students who are giving their very best."