By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
Students will still need to pass to play, but they get another nine weeks.
The Volusia County School Board at its March 12 meeting opted to move forward with amending the longstanding pass-to-play policy, which was first adopted in the late 1990s.
Under the current policy, a student who fails to get a 2.0 grade point average in all core classes, such as English, is ineligible to be in any interschool competition during the next grading period. Critics have long charged that the policy keeps student athletes from daring to reach academically higher.
"Our coaches tell us this is what keeps students away from (advance placement) classes," Board member Stan Schmidt, New Smyrna Beach, said in an interview after the meeting.
Students in AP classes are able to take tests for college credits at the end of courses. The classes are more difficult than those that just garner high-school credits.
The district is looking at changing the policy so the students' 18-week semester grades decide their eligibility to compete in interschool competitions, such as football. Vice Chair Candace Lankford, DeLand, said she's seen examples of students getting similar grades in reverse order and the current policy keeping one and not another from competitions.
"I think it levels the playing field," she said. "If a student in the first nine weeks made an F and in the second made an A they were not eligible to play," she said.
However, if the same student made an A in the first nine weeks of a semester and an F in the second, he or she would be able to compete without interruption, since the overall grade point average is 2.0.
According to the district's last Florida Educational Equity Plan report, which covered the 2010-2011 school year, Volusia's 10 high schools had about 5,200 student athletes among them. The pass-to-play policy doesn't affect some interschool competitions, because they're part of a class curriculum. For example, part of a music student's grade is attendance at marching events.
The district's pass-to-play requirements are more stringent than the Florida High Schools Athletic Association's. It requires student athletes to have an overall semester 2.0 GPA to participate in games. Under that policy, a student could be failing in one or more core classes and continue playing a sport.
Nancy Wait, community information, said there is another possible change coming.
"The only other thing is it used to be interschool activities were prohibited in K to 5," she said.
She said middle school principals may get district permission to have students participate in interschool competitions. The proposed change would allow elementary principals to do the same.
The district must advertise the proposed change for two public hearings. At least one hearing will likely happen in April. Ms. Wait said district staff is working on a report about how many students have been unable to compete in recent school years under the pass-to-play policy.