JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Cuts to sports and activities at schools districts that lose state accreditation would be delayed under a plan approved Wednesday by the Mississippi Board of Education.
The proposed change received no remarks during a public comment period. But board members Johnny Franklin of Bolton and Danny Spreitler of Amory voted against it. The final vote was 4-2.
“I see this as a step back, a lowering or standards or expectations,” Franklin said. He argued the state shouldn’t give up attempts to push parents, students and community members into agitating for improvements in troubled districts.
Since 2012, state policy has limited schools to only half an athletic season as soon as accreditation was revoked, which had happened automatically when the state takes over a district and installs a conservator to run it. District games are allowed, but not playoffs. Cheerleading, dance squads, speech and debate, chorus and band can participate in district or state contests, but can’t get ratings, in unaccredited districts. All games and competitions are banned beginning in the third year if accreditation isn’t regained.
The new rule would impose no penalties in the first year, and then cut interscholastic activities in half during the second year. So it gives a district a year to improve.
“You haven’t lowered the standard, you just have delayed it,” said board member Wayne Gann of Corinth, who voted for the original policy.
The state board had intended limits on sports to motivate community intervention in troubled schools. But administrators in the four districts that have been penalized say that instead, athletes just transfer.
“The public just sees it as penalizing children,” said deputy state Superintendent Mike Kent. “It has in many cases driven a wedge between the public and the school administration. It just simply does not translate to the local level.”
Kent said that when the state revoked Yazoo City’s accreditation, the impact was crushing to football players.
“I walked in and they were 9-0,” he said. “They were getting ready to play the first playoff game the next day and I told them to hang the equipment up.”
Claiborne County, Leflore County and Oktibbeha County have also lost some interscholastic competitions. All four have since regained full accreditation.
Franklin said students and parents should share the blame when a school district fails.
“The children and the parents have to pick up some of that responsibility,” Franklin said. “It’s not just the teachers and the superintendent.”
When a district loses accreditation, any student may transfer, and athletes are immediately eligible to play for other schools. State Superintendent Carey Wright said more motivated students are transferring. Athletes have to maintain minimum grades to be academically eligible.
“These were the better students,” Wright said. “When you took away the ability to play, they just transferred to another district.”
Spreitler said despite the lack of official comments, many people had contacted him to oppose the change.