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9/26/2013
State, activities issues discussed

By NICK BOWMAN

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan School District is still tangling with the Alaska Department of Education on two of its funding requests involving special needs students and the reorganization of the Revilla Alternative School and Fast Track online program.

In his report to the Ketchikan School Board, Schools Superintendent Robert Boyle went through recent interactions with the state. The district had a formal hearing on Aug. 18 regarding the request for special needs, or intensive needs, funding. Since then the hearing officer has suggested to department Commissioner Mike Hanley that the more than $140,000 in funding be denied to the district.

Boyle pointed out that the district is still fighting the state over last year’s funding. The debated intensive needs funding requests were filed for last school year and is not for the current budget. He said he has requested a face-to-face meeting with Hanley.

Boyle said that if the district is ultimately denied the funding, he’ll approach the board about seeking legal counsel concerning whether to take the state to court.

During citizen comments, Ketchikan High School wrestling coach Rick Collins spoke to the School Board about the inequities in how the Alaska School Activities Association classifies the Kayhi wrestling program. No clear standard exists, he said, between the different sports programs.

While football and softball teams compete with smaller schools, he said, wrestlers are unable to compete with most of Southeast because Kayhi is a few dozen students over the threshold, putting them in the same category as Anchorage and Fairbanks high schools with more than 1,500 students.

Collins went through his experiences competing in Southeast or in Seattle as opposed to Anchorage, describing the welcoming atmosphere close to home while saying that he’s found mostly indifference when traveling north. He also said the current system isn’t fair to his athletes, who in years past have been declared district champions without competing because of the lack of wrestlers in Juneau and Thunder Mountain.

School Board members expressed interest in pursuing the issue with ASAA. Michelle O’Brien and Collen Scanlon said they were traveling to Anchorage later this year, and both said they were interested in taking Collins’ concerns to the organization.

Also on Wednesday, the School Board voted during its regular Wednesday meeting to scrap a policy change concerning activities participation for students with failing grades and those in alternative education programs, including home-schooled students.

Members voted 6-2, including the "no" vote of Student Member Evan Wick, against the change to Board Policy 6145 governing extracurricular activities. School Board Member Misty Archibald and Scanlon voted to approve the change.

The proposed policy gave the board two suggested options in how to handle students who are involved in school activities, but have at least one failing grade for a class. The first option allowed students with a failing grade to participate, but they "must also maintain minimum progress towards graduation in order to meet eligibility requirements."

The second option barred students with a failing grade as ineligible for activities.

School Board members were split between the two. Stephen Bradford argued for the second option, saying that the district shouldn’t take a hard-line stance, but should give district administration the flexibility to recognize students whose poor performance might be caused by unusual circumstances. Scanlon and Archibald agreed with Bradford.

O’Brien said she was against giving administrators the ability to "arbitrarily" decide whether a student can play, adding that she could support allowing administrators the ability to exempt students so long as they followed a procedure approved by the School Board.

"Our society has moved so rapidly in a direction where its a win-win, make everyone feel good no matter how bad they're doing — I'm not in favor," O’Brien said. "If the kids want to play, they need to earn it."

She said that if there was a predetermined process in place, she could be convinced on a "middle ground" between the two options.

School Board members Ralph Beardsworth and, for the most part, Dave Timmerman, who said he could be persuaded into supporting the flexible option, supported the second option. Timmerman said students at Schoenbar Elementary School, where he volunteers as an assistant basketball coach, work with teachers to get grades up.

"It’s an every-day, every-hour process to try and get them back on track," he said. "They are allowed to practice because you don’t want a kid falling behind on plays or anything else."

Even so, Timmerman continued, students who are left home when traveling or kept from playing at home shape up quickly.

"Every year, every season that I have coached — in whatever sport — I have at least one kid that doesn’t make grade and it’s usually at the beginning of the season," he said. "Every single one of those kids that hasn’t made grade one time has made grade for the rest of their life after that."

Timmerman added that he kept track of the performance of those students who initially had a failing grade.

"I feel comfortable with a kid with an F not playing," he said.

Wick, who was sworn in at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, said his experience at Ketchikan High School suggested that the threat of being barred from playing encouraged students to keep up with their coursework. To this, Scanlon presented Wick with a couple of extreme circumstances in which an exemption might be warranted.

"Let's just say, Evan, that your house burned down and you find yourself homeless, and as a result of those circumstances you weren't able to turn something in and all of a sudden you have an F," Scanlon said.

Or, Scanlon said, what if "your mom and dad were in a car crash and they were both killed, and you weren’t able to turn something in because you were dealing with the grief. Those are both extenuating circumstances that I’m talking about that could affect your performance as a student."

Boyle said he believed the flexible option put "far too much pressure" on coaches and administrators, who are already able to respond to special circumstances without it being spelled out in policy.

"It’s a challenge and it becomes very arbitrary with option one," Boyle said.

Bradford offered an amendment to support a tweaked second option, which would allow the superintendent or his designee to allow a one-semester probationary period for students, who would still be required to maintain an overall 2.0, or a C average. That amendment passed 4-4, with Clay, Beardsworth, O’Brien and Wick — whose vote is advisory — voting against. Bradford said after the meeting that he proposed the amendment, but voted against the main motion, because he didn’t believe the change in policy was necessary, but wasn’t sure whether the policy changes would pass.

Boyle said he brought the policy forward more to address the alternative education situation in the district rather than change how coaches handle failing grades. Home-schooled students and those in alternative education programs are allowed to participate in district activities, but he said he wanted to have that position written into policy.

The School Board meets next on Oct. 9.