Portland School Board rescinds new eligibility standards for extra-curricular activities

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PORTLAND — The School Department acted hastily in approving a new policy governing the ability of students to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said.

That’s why he urged the School Board to roll back the new rules and revert to the previous policy for the school year that begins next week.

Board members agreed to the change at their Aug. 15 meeting.

The vote in support of the new eligibility policy, which would have applied to students at the city’s middle and high schools, was held Aug. 1.

That policy added a new section on the Habits of Work, or HOWLS, criteria that’s part of the new proficiency standards school districts must adopt under state law.

The policy said in addition to academic achievement, students participating in sports or after school clubs must also show respect, the ability to follow behavioral expectations and to accept responsibility for their own actions.

In addition, the classroom behavior standards under HOWLS specifically call on students to present “quality work,” to meet all deadlines, come to class prepared and to consistently be seen taking notes, participating in class discussions and staying on task.

But on Aug. 15, Botana said even after months of work on the new eligibility policy, there was simply not enough consensus or support for the changes among staff at the affected schools.

“Reverting to the existing policy is the only viable option to take,” he told the board that night.

Botana said this was the right step, especially since there were no issues or concerns about the prior policy in terms of how it operates. “The policy was only up for revision based on the new proficiency requirements,” he said.

“We’ll have to go back to the beginning and work through all the steps,” Botana said, “to ensure all the stakeholders have signed on.”

He said adjustments still need to be made to the eligibility policy going forward, “but it was made clear we just didn’t have it right.”

Under the current eligibility rules, along with meeting minimum academic standards, students taking part in sports and other extracurricular activities are expected to “exhibit appropriate behavior at all times.”

The policy says  as “representatives of the schools, students are expected to conduct themselves so as not to discredit themselves, their team or organization, their coach or advisor, or their school.”

This includes abiding by state laws governing alcohol, tobacco and drug use for minors and setting “the highest possible example of conduct (and) sportsmanship.”

There were several issues with the new policy, Botana said.

“The version you approved raised the (HOWLS) bar to a 3,” he told the School Board last week. But, “that score is at the top of the HOWLS scale, so it’s similar to requiring an A average for eligibility.”

In addition, he told the board, the city’s three high schools only wanted to apply the HOWLS standards to freshmen, not to all students, as the new policy would require.

And, Botana said, the new policy also only gave students a week to turn around their HOWLS scores, instead of the three weeks that students have now to address any eligibility issues.

Board member Sarah Thompson thanked Botana for taking the time to listen to the feedback and the issues that were raised after the board’s initial action on Aug. 1.

She voted against the policy the first time around, saying it “needs to work for families, students and staff.”

Board member Marnie Morrione was concerned the central office made changes to the proposed policy, but did not send it back to the Curriculum Committee for review before bringing it before the full board for a vote.

“It’s important to get this correct,” Morrione said. “Anytime we move too fast, too soon, it’s a red flag.”

Anna Trevorrow, the board chairwoman, agreed and said, “It’s important that we have a policy that’s workable.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

The Portland School Board has rolled back a new policy that added behavioral standards for students to remain eligible for sports or other after school activities. Here the Bulldogs of Portland High celebrate their state championship in 2016.