At its September meeting, the Juneau School Board passed a policy change that is set to ban all middle school sports travel starting next year.
But a community group, led by Juneau resident Jon Kurland, is trying to convince the board to backtrack and undo its highly controversial decision.
“I had some concerns about decisions the board made, and, frankly, how they made it,” Kurland said. “I felt these kids deserved a harder look at this.”
After the board’s September decision, Kurland reached out to school board members to form a community stakeholder group that would meet with middle school principals, parents and coaches to fully comprehend the situation, and then ultimately come up with an alternative plan that addresses the main concerns without axing all middle school sports travel.
“It’s just really important as kids are becoming young adults and teenagers and transitioning into high school,” Kurland said of the sports travel experience. “There’s a lot to be gained by giving kids those opportunities.”
The team spent November meeting with officials from Juneau’s two middle schools and working to understand all the facts associated with the issue. The focus then turned to producing a draft report to present to anyone interested so feedback could be considered before turning in a final recommendation to the school board next spring.
“There might just be small things to address, or there might be some fundamental things we need to address,” said Kurland, who is planning to attend site council meetings for both schools next month.
The group’s draft report identified seven school board issues and four to five areas of concern for Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School and Floyd Dryden Middle School.
“I haven’t had a single parent wanting to stop travel, quite adamantly in the other direction, actually,” Floyd Dryden Principal Tom Milliron said. He added that sports travel at FDMS happens at “zero cost” to the school’s or district’s operating budget.
The FDMS concerns cited in the report center on allowing the school to make decisions about travel on a case-by-case basis, so the pros and cons of each trip can be considered in tangent with the community’s desire (whenever possible).
“The support is solid for middle school sports travel happening as it has in the past,” Milliron said.
In the DHMS section, issues largely centered on logistical areas. The first issue listed is a decreased office staff due to budget cuts and staff not having the time to handle travel arrangements. The second issue is about what volunteers are allowed to do on the school’s behalf.
Ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to travel, keeping up with the school’s other (non-athletic) priorities and being sure coaches are suitable to take children on out-of-town trips rounded out the five issues listed for DHMS.
“It may not be a solution everyone is in love with, but we have found a solution for all of the issues,” Kurland said.
For example, in response to the DHMS issue of some students possibly lacking the funds to travel with their team, the committee points to FDMS’ system where teams are required to cover the expense of every student on the team before a trip is approved.
The school board’s concerns focus on funding, equality and educational issues.
In terms of funding, the stakeholder committee report recommends have teams that travel shoulder the burden of paying for their trips and any associated costs (such as hiring a substitute teacher to replace the coach taking the team).
To address concerns about diminishing the educational aspect of middle school by taking teacher-coaches out of the classroom, the stakeholder committee report points to an idea pulled from its meeting with Milliron which suggests lesson plans being turned in for the classes the coach will miss to ensure the quality doesn’t drop.
“(The School Board has) afforded us the opportunity to dig into the issues a little more deeply than was done before,” he said. “This is only a draft that we’re putting out specifically to get public comment.”
At the December school board meeting, Kurland told the board that the committee hopes to have a final version ready by the board’s February meeting.
Kurland is spearheading the effort and spends “quite a bit” of time on the issue every week, even though the travel ban won’t affect his children — the youngest of which will start high school next year.
Kurland says it’s not about him or his own kids, however.
“For a lot of kids, it’s huge,” he said.