South Portland pressed to allow private school students on public school teams

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Department’s policy of excluding private school students from public middle school sports teams is being challenged by a group of parents.

The School Board will hold a workshop after its regular business meeting on Monday, Jan. 11, to discuss the policy and consider what changes, if any, should be made.

“The intent of the workshop is to give the Policy Committee guidance,” Chairman Richard Carter said. “I’m walking into this with an open mind.”

A handful of parents brought the subject to school officials in November. They argued that their children should have the same rights as home-schooled children, who are allowed by state law to try out for public school sports teams and participate in other extracurricular activities.

State Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said state law does not require or prohibit the city from allowing private school students on public sports teams. State law only outlines rules for giving home-schooled students access to public programs, he said.

Superintendent Suzanne Godin did not immediately know how many home-school students participate on public school teams.

“I don’t know if we have any home-school students currently participating on middle school teams,” Godin said in an e-mail. “That is the type of information we are compiling to share at the workshop for the board’s consideration.”

During the November meeting, Kahill Court resident Hank Dunn asked the board to discuss the existing policy openly at public meetings, rather than at the administrative level.

“We ask for your consideration and an open process that is not a policy review, where you say we looked at it and we’re going to keep it,” Dunn said. “It should be an open discussion that involves the community. There are a lot of people here tonight and even more who will be attending.”

The parents argued they are seeing little return on their taxes, since more than 60 cents of every tax dollar goes to the School Department.

“We pay a tremendous amount of taxes,” Willard Street resident John Murphy said. “… All of us who have our children at private school have used zero resources for the amount of money we’re paying.”

There are two private middle schools in South Portland: Holy Cross at 436 Broadway and the Greater Portland Christian School, 1338 Broadway. While GPCS offers soccer, co-ed basketball and track, Holy Cross partners with St. Bridget’s and Cathedral School to form teams that compete against public middle schools.

While the private schools offer varying degrees of sports, parents said they want their kids to remain in the South Portland athletic system.

“A lot of these kids are not being groomed to go to public high school,” Danforth Road resident Deb Napolitano said.

Some parents said their children were planning to attend South Portland High School. If so, their kids will be at a disadvantage when they try out for sports teams, they said, having not played within the public sports system.

Mike Johnson, whose son, Aden, is a sixth-grader at Holy Cross, said that prior to middle school, Aden played on the South Portland Big Red football team. Now, he would have to join a youth league in Portland to get him by until he goes to SPHS.

“I’m not sure you get a fair shake if you’re gone for two years and these (public school) kids have played together from the third grade,” Johnson said.

The Jan. 11 workshop will begin after the board’s regular business meeting in council chambers at City Hall.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]