In January, the School Reform Board handed another chore to high school teachers: Keep closer tabs on students involved in extracurricular activities, including athletics.

Under a policy the board approved in December, students face, for the first time, grade and course-load requirements for participation in after-school activities, and athletes face higher academic requirements for staying on the team.

“The biggest deal is for the teachers who have to do the evaluations,” says Trent Eaton, sponsor of Bogan High School’s computer club. “It is another piece of paperwork.” Eaton already has checked with Bogan’s dean of students to get club members’ course schedules and has asked their teachers to provide him with regular updates on the students’ grades.

Three weeks into the semester, coaches and club sponsors at a number of schools, however, say they haven’t had time to start the tracking program or weren’t even aware of the new requirement.

To participate in extracurricular activities, a student must have earned a C average the previous semester and have had passing grades in at least 20 class hours, or four courses. He also must currently be passing at least 20 hours of classes on a weekly basis and have a C average. Students typically take six or seven courses a semester.

Students who do not maintain a C average may participate if they follow a teacher-approved individual study plan, which could consist of tutoring, after-school academic programs or Saturday classes. The student, his parents or guardian, his counselor and the club sponsor or team coach must sign off on the plan.

The board adopted the policy in the wake of state legislation that required all school districts with grades 9 through 12 to set minimum academic requirements for participation in extracurricular activities. The deadline for implementation was Jan. 1, 1999.

Since the mid-1970s, interscholastic athletic teams have been subject to grade standards imposed by the Illinois High School Association, according to Executive Director Dave Fry. Under the IHSA rules, student athletes have to maintain passing grades (at least a D) in four courses on a weekly basis.

With the requirement of a C average, Chicago set a higher standard than IHSA. The shift got mixed reviews.

“It’s about time the students realize grades are the first priority,” says Tom Larson, CPS chess coordinator said. “If the student and coach work out a tutoring program, there should be no problem getting these grades.”

Others, however, think it could be counterproductive. “We use theater arts to help keep students in school and try to encourage them to go to college,” says arts educator Jackie Murphy, who is developing an after-school theater program for Lake View High School. “One of the most important factors to kids succeeding is seeking a close attachment to school.”

Implementation was similarly mixed. Some schools quickly determined who was eligible. Others are not clear on the policy and have done nothing. And a few say they never heard of it.

“The principal has not officially told us about the program,” says Paul Pajeau, the director of the arts center at Curie High School. “We [agree] with what the board is mandating and will get to it, but we are busy with other things.”

A number of teachers and administrators noted that with testing, grading and other mid-year activities, January is not a good time to impose a new requirement.

Awaiting directions

At Robeson High, Larry Mamula, the school’s basketball and cross country coach, says he thought the policy was not scheduled to start until the fall. “I knew it was in the plan,” he says. “But there have been no directives to put it in place.”

All school administrators should be aware of the new policy, says J.W. Smith, who as director of the CPS Department of Physical Development and Health is overseeing implementation of the requirements. “With the amount of publicity this had gotten, I don’t see how anybody could not know about it,” he says.

The board drafted contracts for individual study programs, but schools are responsible for follow through, Smith says. “Implementation begins with the school and the coaches or sponsor of the activity,” he says. “There is flexibility for … schools to do what is best for the individual students.”

Here’s where things stood at a number of schools in February:

HYDE PARK Two months into chess season, William Wagner, sponsor of the chess club, had to release a student who helped the team place 14th out of 25 in a national competition. The student was ineligible because, last semester, he passed only 15 class hours instead of the required 20.

Two team members with low grade-point averages have retained their eligibility by entering tutoring programs, Wagner reports. One student is being tutored a total of six hours a week by two math teachers. The other student is seeing a math teacher and a science teacher for tutoring, but Wagner says his grade-point average was so low, 1.06, that he is hesitant to put him in competition.

Wagner says the principal “has called meetings to explain the rules and let us know that they will be strictly enforced.”

BOWEN When the policy came up at a probation meeting last semester, half the staff was indifferent and the other half had never heard of it, reports external partner Carla Cary of the Small Schools Workshop. “People are looking at this like ‘What is this all about?’ As with any initiative, unless it is enforced, no one will touch it.”

HUBBARD Assistant Principal Norbert Kane says he thought the policy didn’t go into effect until next fall. “We want more directives from the board on what it will take to put this program in full swing,” he says.

FLOWER VOCATIONAL The school is gradually rolling out the new policy, says Athletic Director Emma Hardeman. So far, no student has been declared ineligible, but three have been put on mandatory study plans, she says. “When academic evaluations are complete in the next two weeks, more students will be affected,” she adds.

Hardeman first heard about the policy at a citywide meeting for athletic directors last semester, she says. “They told us that the principals had the information, but I hadn’t heard about it. I think a lot of people heard about it [at the meeting] for the first time, too.”

BOGAN Helen McGee, dean of students and athletic director, says she knows the program is supposed to be in place but that the school is not yet equipped to implement it. “We haven’t got all the paperwork from the board,” she says at the beginning of the semester.”

FOREMAN Implementing the requirements for athletic activities has been easy, according to Athletic Director Darline Dominiak. But, she says, “It’s hard to keep track of who’s in clubs. We don’t have lists of who is participating in clubs. [Monitoring] can be done, but we have to identify them first.”

Principal John Garvey points out that athletic activities are more time-consuming and pose a bigger threat to a student’s academic performance than other activities do. “We are just beginning to take a look at clubs and other activities,” he says. “The other activities aren’t quite as intense. They don’t meet everyday. When you are involved in a sport, it is a [large] part of your life.”

So far, six members of the men’s basketball and swimming teams have been deemed ineligible, according to Dominiak.

A state sampler

Arizona: The state requires districts to set eligibility requirements based on a combination of the number of courses passed and the grades received. In 1992, the state abandoned a policy that required failing students to wait a semester before rejoining a club or team.

Arkansas: In 1993, students were required to maintain a C average to participate. Four years later, state officials relaxed the policy upon learning that academics had not improved and drop-out rates were on the rise.

California: The state requires school districts serving children in grades 7-12 to set academic requirements that may be as strict as requiring a 2.0 on a 4.0 scale in all courses. In 1990, the Los Angeles Unified School District dropped a “no F” policy that prevented students from participating in extracurricular activities if they failed a course. The district now requires students to maintain a 2.0 average.

Colorado: The state requires each students to take at least five classes and pass four of them. It allows districts to create stricter guidelines.

Florida: The state requires students to maintain a 1.5 on a 4.0 scale and pass five classes in the grading period before participation.

Mississippi: The state requires students to pass five courses, maintaining an average of at least a 70 percent in those classes.

New Mexico: Students must have a 2.0 on a 4.0 scale in the grading period before participation.

Texas: The state suspends any student who receives below a 70 percent in a non-honors class from participation in any extracurricular activity for three weeks. This is down from a previous suspension policy of six weeks.

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