Last week the Pittsburgh Public School District Board of Directors approved a package of policy changes to the district’s guidelines. Contained in the package was the lowering of the grade point average requirement for students participating in athletics and other extracurricular activities.
While the former policy required students to meet a 2.0 GPA, district administrators have not been adhering to the policy and some students with GPAs below the requirement have been allowed to play. The change in the policy now lowers the GPA requirement to 1.5.
“I describe it as a bridge. It’s to get from where we are to where we want kids to be. It appears that when it was last changed, there was no communication to those who actually do this work about the actual requirement,” Superintendent Linda Lane said. “In any case kids were not being held to the standard. I am totally supportive of holding kids to the standard. But what I wasn’t in favor of is pulling the rug out from other kids because adults weren’t doing what they were supposed to do.”
At the July 27 legislative meeting, District 3 Representative Thomas Sumpter took the change a step further by suggesting the board lower the requirement to 1.0. He said this would bring the district in line with other athletic programs such as the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association GPA requirement of 1.0.
“If we just say from a 1.5 all those playing with a 1.4, 1.3, 1.2, 1.1, and a 1.0 just can’t participate because of a decision which isn’t their fault. However it’s the misapplication of the policy that really concerns me, that if you can have all the coaches, all the faculty managers, the staff here at central, everybody not applying the board’s policy in a consistent manner, what was the purpose? Was the purpose just to get players on teams? Now if you look at the numbers, the skewing, those are the children that need help.”
Although Sumpter admitted the policy might have originally been proposed to coordinate with PIAA and the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, which has a 1.5 requirement, he said the change could be a chance to help students most in need of academic support. He also said the GPA calculation should include grades in physical education to mirror the Pittsburgh Promise requirement.
“I’m saying this now to be considered by the next legislative meeting, if we want to go to a 1.0 on up to a 1.99 in terms of affording all of those students the opportunity to get academic intervention which maybe that’s the linchpin that keeps them in school, the participation in those athletic activities or those extracurriculars,” Sumpter said. “I think when this policy intervention was proposed, it was not in the context of necessarily being temporary or one year only. It came out from the committee that was looking at athletics in general, in total throughout the district and improvement in that. So the context might be a little different, but I’m looking at the intervention piece as to helping more students than would be helped as proposed at this point in time. I’d rather be in a position to have tried to help student raise their GPA than to just ignore them completely.”
While Sumpter’s suggestion could be taken in to consideration for a future amendment, the package of policy changes was approved with a vote of eight to zero. District 8 Representative Mark Brentley, who has voiced opposition to the policy change, did not attend the meeting.
“It’s an attempt to right a wrong. The previous policy had a requirement of 2.0 and there were students who were participating that did not have that. In order to not count them out immediately, they gave them the opportunity to ramp up and take advantage of the services available,” said Sharene Shealey, district 1 representative, “There was some discussion about opening it back up to lower the GPA to 1.0. I wasn’t in favor of that.”
Under the new policy, students with GPAs below 2.0 will be given the chance to raise their grades during the 2011-2012 school year. They will be placed on probation and must complete an academic intervention program.
“To come in, in August, and say well you thought you were going to be eligible but now you’re not wouldn’t be fair. What we’re talking about is to get kids from where they are to where they need to be,” Lane said. “To me it seemed more fair, because African-American kids would be disproportionately impacted, so that’s why I proposed a bridge to get them there. It’s not because I don’t think they can do it. I don’t see this as making an exception because exceptions are already being made.”