Schools eye grade rule

Published 11:11 pm Sunday, September 21, 2008

FRANKLIN—The city’s school board is considering a proposal that would prohibit high school and middle school athletes from playing sports if they are unable to maintain at least a “C” average.

Board members nearly voted on the new policy Thursday during a discussion about a new program of mandatory study halls and tutorial sessions for certain students at Franklin High School and J.P. King Middle School.

“Education comes before sports for me,” Vice Chairwoman Mona Murphy said in the midst of that discussion. Encouraged by member David Benton, she then moved that the board consider raising the GPA necessary for athletic participation to 2.0.

Athletes in Franklin currently need a grade point average of only a 1.25 to play, according to Assistant Superintendent Rick Clemons.

City Attorney Taylor Williams pointed out that no motion was necessary for the board to “consider” the change, only for it to actually change the policy.

In the brief discussion that followed, Clemons warned the board against making a quick decision on the issue without consulting principals and other “stakeholders” to see what would be its effect.

Murphy withdrew her motion, somewhat grudgingly, and Chairman Bill Scarboro asked her to serve on a subcommittee with Benton that would meet with Clemons and the principals to discuss the ramifications of such a decision.

Murphy and Benton will report to the rest of the school board next month with the results of that meeting.

The school board did not hesitate, however, to reward students at the high end of the achievement scale, voting 5-0 to exempt those with a 3.0 average or higher from the study halls that have been required of all students participating in extracurricular activities this year.

The decision was a response to a request earlier in Thursday’s meeting from Marguerite Cross, who coaches the high school’s Scholastic Bowl team. Students on that team, she said, have GPAs ranging from 3.5 to 3.8, and being forced to sit through a study hall approaches punishment for them and others who already are high achievers.

Setting the exemption point also would give average students a greater incentive to raise their grades, she said.

Under the new study hall and tutoring program, those who participate in extracurricular activities at the middle school or the high school are required to attend one-hour after-school study halls, where they can work on their homework.

Coaches monitor their teams during each of the study halls, and they are charged with turning over attendance information to their principals.

Missing a study hall results in a one-game suspension the first time, a two-game suspension the second time and suspension or dismissal from the team the third time.

Those whose GPAs fall below 2.0 will be required to get remedial tutoring in order to continue participating.

Franklin High School Assistant Principal Karl Robertson told the School Board that the tutoring there for a total of 276 students began Monday, with help available from teachers in 16 different subjects.

The tutoring program has been offered to all students whose GPAs fall below the 2.0 mark, Clemons said Friday. Attendance figures presented Thursday, however, showed that the threat of prohibiting extracurricular activities significantly increased participation.

Whereas nearly 100 percent of athletes attended the tutoring sessions, Robertson said, it was not uncommon this week to see one-quarter or less of the others who were eligible attending.