Monday, May 15, 2000

School board to review sports eligibility

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Public Schools tonight re-examines extracurricular eligibility, a year after public outcry forced it to rescind changed standards.

        The school board's pro gram committee will convene a public forum to discuss the possibility of changing district rules.

  • What: CPS Board Program Committee meeting.
  • When: 7-9 p.m. today.
  • Where: CPS Education Center, 2651 Burnet Ave., Corryville.
        “We are going into this with no preconceived notions and we don't already have our minds made up and we're not going to make any decisions,” said board member Sally Warner, chairwoman of the program committee. “We're still looking to maintain standards, increase participation and increase academic achievement — and that will never change.”

        Last year, the standard for Cincinnati middle and high schools was the same: maintain a 2.0 grade point aver age — equivalent to a “C” — and pass all classes to be eligible for extracurricular sports.

        However, the board unanimously changed that for seventh- and eighth-graders in August. It dropped the 2.0 minimum but retained the requirement that students pass all classes, in effect, accepting a 1.0 or “D” average.

        In a recent interview, David Dierker, Cincinnati schools athletics manager, said the district wasn't trying to lessen standards, only to make standards work throughout the district.

        “Several schools have gone K-8 (kindergarten-eighth grade) and don't even use letter grades, so how can we give them a comparable grade point average?” Mr. Dierker said. “So we've got kids who can play in one school, and kids in another school who may be eligible but can't play because their grades don't correspond.”

        Long an advocate for increasing participation to reach at-risk youth, Mr. Dierker said he won't ask for a reduction today.

        “Standards should stay the way they are ... that should be our goal,” Mr. Dierker said. “But ironically it is a fact that you can graduate from CPS and never be eligible to play a sport.”

        Last year's middle-school decision ignited a firestorm of criticism, in part because critics mistakenly assumed it applied to high schools.

        That could reignite tonight because the discussion is not limited to middle schools.

        Accused of “dumbing down,” the board last year returned to the previous 2.0 standard for middle school as well as high school, a rule that was implemented in 1992 and remains the toughest in Hamilton County.

        State standards require students to pass four classes in the previous quarter and maintain a GPA of 1.0.

        However, that's changing.

        Beginning this fall, the private but governing Ohio High Schools Athletics Association will require athletes to pass five classes instead of four, consistent with the state's new requirement of 21 credits to graduate. That is lower than Cincinnati's current policy; schools may impose tougher standards but not fall below the association's criteria.

        Standards at private schools are up to the principal or pastor, although students must meet OHSAA minimums to compete.

        One of the most vocal opponents last year was the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

        Then-President Tom Mooney said the middle-school change lowered standards. Mr. Mooney is now president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

        But CFT bargaining chairman Rick Beck said the union would consider another look at the issue.

        “We have sensitivity to trying to match up what things mean at different schools,” Mr. Beck said. “But we don't want to look like we're selling out our standards.”

        Ms. Warner said her committee made a concerted effort to invite anyone who might have an interest in the issue, including principals, the CFT, members of local school decision-making committees, student government associations and parent-teacher groups.

        “We need to have dialogue on this issue,” Ms. Warner said. “It may not lead to a change, and may just lead to more discussion, but we need to get it out there and talk about it.”

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