The Bethlehem Board of Education has addressed the districts’ guidelines pertaining to its athletics program following a controversy involving student athletes being cut from teams for missing practices.
Although a resolution outlining absences from the athletic program hasn’t been officially adopted, a framework resolution was accepted by the school board during its Wednesday, May 7, meeting. School officials and athletic directors are currently working on the exact language to be adopted by the district’s new rules.
The situation came to light after students were forced to choose between softball practices and a missionary trip to help Hurricane Katrina victims during spring break. The students who chose to go to New Orleans instead of practicing were cut from the team.
In response to criticism of the situation, school officials put together a committee of athletic directors, coaches, parents and students, to re-evaluate the school’s athletic guidelines.
According to the new guidelines, which pertain strictly to varsity-level athletes, students are expected to attend every practice and every competition. If extenuating circumstances are known before the beginning of the season, students are to notify the school immediately and parents are being asked to schedule family obligations and events around the athletic calendar.
If student athletes are unable to fulfill their obligations to the team, they may choose not to participate for the season, the guidelines state. `Should extenuating circumstances be known prior to the season beginning, the student should communicate this information to the coach and Athletic Director before the first day of tryouts.`
The guidelines also state that if a student misses a competition, that student will have to sit out of an equal number of competitions.
Officials did not come to an agreement pertaining to the repercussions of missing practices, with the guidelines stating, `The Director of Athletics and the High School Principal shall determine all matters of student athletic eligibility.`
The board and the committee did agree on several basic principals, including the need for conformity in dealing with such matters.
Board President James Lytle said it was clear that three basic principles were understood: student athletes have a responsibility to fulfill; there will be consequences for missing games for vacations and other activities ` but would not include ineligibility for the entire season; and there will be an appeals process for students whose absences are due to extenuating circumstances such as illness or a family death.
The board unanimously approved this framework for a policy to be included in the high school’s athletic handbook.
`I believe this is the right approach,` Principal Charles Abba said. `It calls for consistency across the Athletic Department and ensures that no student will be prevented from participating on a team due to circumstances or opportunities that will take them out of town. I want to thank the parents and coaches whose participation in the process has led to this improvement.`
Board members questioned the policy during the meeting asking whether it was a vacation policy or a standard athletics policy.
`We put a committee together and we met three times,` Interim Athletic Director Ron Smith told the board. `This is a very difficult topic but I think we came up with a real good policy.`
Smith said that the committee looked at the policies of other similar school districts and `spoke very candidly about this topic.` The committee made it clear that the policy would only apply to `varsity level sports.`
Superintendent Les Loomis said the spirit of the guidelines were clear enough for the board to accept the recommendations with a later vote on the formal wording of what will be included in next year’s athletic handbook for students and parents.
Because of all the different sports teams, coaches and schedules, the board of education said it wanted to have a comprehensive and consistent policy that would apply to the entire athletics department.
According to Smith, absences in practices and competitions seem more prevalent in spring, but that the guidelines would also apply to the fall semester.
Board member Robin Storey said, `There needs to be some way to educate parents` about the new sports policy and that it should be included on the school’s Web site and newsletter.
The board agreed that full disclosure and notice would be given to the community concerning the district’s updated athletic policy.“