Empire Editorial: Confusion persists with middle school sports travel ban

It’s been almost two months since the Juneau School Board approved an unpopular middle school sports travel ban. Since the ban was approved Sept. 10 by a 4-3 majority, the school board has now decided to form a committee to look further into the issue, something we believe should have occurred before the board first voted on it.


The topic has evolved, however, and at the heart of the issue is more than just whether or not students from Floyd Dryden, Dzantik’i Heeni, Montessori or Juneau Charter middle schools can, or should, participate in athletic competitions outside of Juneau. Parents, teachers, coaches and students are confused as to why the school board took such a hard stance in the first place and the reasoning behind their decision.

The lack of communication between the board and residents has muddled the situation. No individuals or groups in favor of the ban have spoken up during school board meetings, leaving many to wonder who the board members in favor of the ban are representing. If board members believe their rationale makes perfect sense and its the rest of us who don’t understand the bigger picture, please communicate that and help us understand the situation from your viewpoint. Currently the board’s actions have led to far more questions than answers in the eyes of members of the public. A lack of transparency may be why.

There was little discussion between board members prior to voting on the sports travel ban. We’re curious if there have been conversations taking place outside of school board meetings because of the hard stance several board members have taken in favor of the ban, despite the community’s efforts to work with them toward keeping sports travel ongoing. It appears, as outsiders looking in, that some board members had their minds made up before the topic came up in the first place. Several different explanations have been given so far, but none explain why the board chose to vote on this issue without first delving deeper into it.

The explanations we’ve heard so far are:

1. Budgetary constraints

The issue of available funds in the school district’s budget would appear to make the most sense. The problem with this reasoning is that the school board didn’t come to its Sept. 10 meeting with a list of costly projects and programs it was looking to eliminate, with middle school sports travel making that list. The school district is facing a seven-figure shortfall this year, depending on how final enrollment numbers turn out, and a $15,000 line item associated with middle school sports travel is a small amount when looking at the bigger picture. Not to mention that the school district usually does have a surplus of money rolling over from the previous year. The school board would have known to expect a surplus and could have waited a month for a clearer financial picture before making a decision. We don’t believe the issue is about just the money, because when members of the community offered to pick up the tab the majority of board members were still unwavering in their decision.

2. School equality

Another reason given was that Floyd Dryden teams were traveling and Dzantik’i Heeni students weren’t, so the ban was a way to bring equality between the two schools. Again, this reason doesn’t sound logical. Principals of the two schools should be allowed to draft their own policy when it comes to middle school travel. For the school board to ban all sports travel as a way of bringing about equality is counterproductive to creating opportunities for students.

3. Support from local businesses

Some say the reason is because Juneau businesses are tired of being badgered by students who are fund raising for sports teams. Every business has the right to either support or not support local sports teams, and we respect their decisions. For the school board to implement policy based on the needs or wants of the business community is not what they were elected for and it should not influence school policy.

“Please do not tell parents and small businesses what we will and will not support,” said local business owner Wade Bryson, during the Sept. 10 meeting.

Bryson then made another point, which ended up being spot on.

“If we ban travel to other Southeast cities, it will only be a matter of time before they stop coming here,” he said.

Ketchikan announced just a day later they would not be traveling to Juneau, and we wouldn’t be shocked if other Southeast communities followed their lead. The damaged relations with our regional neighbors was an unintended consequence, but a consequence nonetheless.

4. Lack of staff support

Another reason being offered is that the middle schools no longer have the support staff needed to facilitate middle school sports travel. This is a logical reason by itself, but one that should have been looked into by the board in hopes of identifying a way to relieve the schools of some of their responsibility, if possible, or at the very least, they could look into how Floyd Dryden has been able to continue traveling when DZ remained unable.

These are some of the reasons given since the ban was adopted, depending on who you ask. There are still some who believe the real reason is being concealed. We are among those who think there’s still more to this story and that there needs to be more transparency when the school board is weighing topics such as the travel ban.

The decision during the Oct. 15 meeting to form a committee to examine the matter should have happened at the start. We’re glad the school board is taking this necessary step to get community involvement, but we don’t understand why they didn’t form the committee before calling for a vote.

Whoever serves on this committee will be faced with an impossible task unless they know precisely what the key problems are that led to the sports travel ban in the first place. Without that, the committee will be chasing its own tail, much like the school board is by providing due diligence only after rushing into a decision.

Juneau residents should be informed of how many trips our middle school sports teams are taking outside of Juneau and how many days of school teachers and students are missing as a result. Perhaps a solution could be to limit travel instead of doing away with it completely. Or perhaps there is a better solution no one has thought of yet. What’s important is that we consider all possible scenarios before making a decision that will impact our youth for years to come.

The decision to create this community group was met with resistance from several board members. One said during the Oct. 15 meeting, “Part of our ethics is when we make a decision on the board level we move on and don’t look back.”

Some board members may believe that to be true, but let’s not forget that part of your ethics is to be transparent, open and honest by conducting school board business in a public environment and taking into consideration the views and opinions of those who elected you to represent them. Otherwise, the four candidates who forced the middle school sports travel ban, despite public outcry, shouldn’t be surprised when they are up for re-election if voters decide to move on and not look back.


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