ATHLETICS POLICY COMMITTEE TAKES INPUT FROM PARENTS AS IT RE-THINKS ATHLETICS ATTENDANCE POLICY
October 29, 2016 -- At a public meeting held last Wednesday evening at the high school library, members of the North Shore High School Athletics Policy Committee took comments from community members regarding the J.V. and Varsity interscholastic sports attendance policy. About a dozen residents attended with virtually all expressing support for changing the policy so as to make it more flexible with regards to what constitutes an excused absence and to provide for a penalty less severe than expulsion from the team for incurring three unexcused absences.
Currently, according to the policy, there are only three acceptable excuses for an absence - personal illness, a death in the family, and religious observance. The policy has been questioned publicly at school board meetings over recent months by parents whose children have been adversely affected by the rule.
Athletics Director Don Lange presided over Wednesday’s meeting, and was flanked by three coaches who serve on the committee, while parents sat around tables offering their input as Mr. Lange responded to questions and comments and the coaches took notes.
One parent, who had addressed the school board at its October 20 meeting, explained how the policy had affected her daughter, a sophomore soccer player who had been excluded from participation on the J.V. Soccer Team, for which there are no cuts, for having traveled to Ireland this past August to attend a 50th wedding anniversary celebration and renewal of wedding vows for her grandparents. The family planned ten months ahead, scheduling the event to accommodate the child and her soccer season since traditionally summer practices have begun the week before the start of school - not two weeks before as was the case this year. Unable to change the reservations or accommodations when they became aware of the conflict in June, they immediately appealed for leniency to the coach and athletic director but were rejected, and then took their case to the superintendent later that summer to no avail.
“In this day and age, we should be encouraging kids to be on teams,” she said. She continued that her daughter was devastated by the expulsion and that it has continued to affect her socially.
Mr. Lange replied that he “felt terrible” about her daughter's experience and that that particular case was a reason why the Athletics Policy Review Committee was revisiting the policy in an effort “to make it more fair.”
School Board Trustee Marianne Russo, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, expressed concerns about the policy’s lack of flexibility and said she liked the idea of an appeals board that could grant exemptions for certain types of absences.
Mr. Lange said that the committee was looking at that idea as well as having different policies for JV and Varsity athletes.
A parent said that he believed it was a good idea to have different rules for JV and Varsity athletes. JV teams, he explained, do not have play-offs and championship games, and so while absences may affect performance in a particular game, it does not affect the team’s opportunity to advance.
Another parent, whose child is a high school athlete, said that Varsity athletes and their families understand that they can’t go on vacation during the season, and that perhaps that students entering high school were not aware of the rule. She continued that when her child had missed practices she was benched and that athletes understand that those are the consequences.
Still another parent agreed that there should be consequences and penalties but questioned whether it was appropriate to expel an athlete from a team for being taken on a family vacation. While she asserted that players should no doubt be benched or penalized in other ways for absences, she believed that expulsion was too severe.
A mother of two elementary school children said that she moved into the district because of the many opportunities it offers to kids in the arts, athletics and other areas.
She said as a former division II college All-American athlete, she understands the importance of commitment to the team, but that in high school students should be exposed to different experiences and opportunities, and should not be pressured into pursuing only one interest.
Another parent challenged that view saying that kids need to make choices. “Kids can’t do everything - they’re already under a lot of pressure,” she said.
A parent of a middle school athlete said that he supported penalties such as “benching” for being absent from practice, but believed that expulsion from the team was much too severe and that the definitions of an excused absence were much too restrictive and that there needed to be more flexibility. He suggested that guidelines be developed for coaches that could they could apply to each situation rather than simply allowing for only three excuses. He encouraged the committee to look at other district’s policies. Mr. Lange said that they had. The parent said that he thought the language of Manhasset’s policy was appropriate which he said encourages students to take advantage of academic and educational opportunities.
The same parent said that he believed that when it came to school sponsored trips such as the World Languages cultural exchange trips to Europe that it should not be within the purview of the Athletics department to decide whether it would be an excused absence, since it is impacting the operations of another department. That decision he said should be left up to a building-wide committee or school board since either would be better able to look at the big picture rather than from the perspective of one department.
“It seems,” said one gentleman summing up what had been said at the meeting, “that there is general agreement here that the policy needs to be more flexible and that while there should be penalties for absences, expulsion is too severe.”
Mr. Lange said that the full Athletics Policy Committee would take into consideration the parents’ input as it considers changes to the policy at its next meeting.