For MCPS sports, universal freshmen eligibility proposed

For MCPS sports, universal freshmen eligibility proposed

School board committee recommends no academic requirements for clubs, groups

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A Montgomery County school board committee on Tuesday recommended that high school freshmen be eligible for sports and extracurriculars regardless of their grades.

The discussion came during an initial review of a school district policy that says student-athletes must maintain a 2.0 GPA and have no more than one failing grade.

However, on Tuesday, the four members of the board’s Policy Management Committee agreed that students should be guaranteed to be eligible for sports through their first year of high school.

The current policy allows first-year high school freshmen to participate in sports through the first quarter. Then, their eligibility is based on their grades.

The full school board will consider and vote on the committee’s recommended policy changes before they can take effect.

The rationale behind the change, MCPS Director of Athletics Jeff Sullivan said, was to provide consistency for sports seasons. So, regardless of whether a student participates in a fall or spring sport, they could participate, Sullivan said.

“The fair thing is to have that universal eligibility for first-year students,” board member Pat O’Neill said.

The committee also recommended eliminating academic eligibility requirements for extracurricular activities that are not sports, like clubs and organizations. Board member Judy Docca opposed the change.

“I also know there are a lot of students that the reason they don’t do well in school is because they aren’t engaged, so by making it so they don’t have anything to be engaged with potentially, I have a real problem with,” school board member Rebecca Smondrowski said in support of the change. “If there’s a way we could help them participate in some way so they have something in school they’re passionate about, if it’s not necessarily academics, that … goes a long way.”

More than 7,500 students – 16% of the MCPS high school population – participated in athletics in 2017, according to school system data.

Approximately 90% of high school students were eligible to participate in extracurricular activities in the 2018-19 school year under the current policy, according to MCPS data presented Tuesday. The percentage of students eligible steadily declined throughout the school year to about 84% in the fourth quarter.

The proposed changes are expected to be released for public feedback and discussed by the full school board in the coming months. Any finalized changes would be implemented in the 2020-21 school year.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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