Are after-school activities fair?

Board questions whether sports, other activities cut into academics, family life

Posted: Monday, April 24, 2000

The Juneau School Board is examining the rules for after-school activities following some complaints by parents and some misgivings of its own.

The issue is likely to raise questions about the purpose of activities such as sports, and whether there's a conflict between broad participation and high quality.

As board member Chuck Cohen put it at last Tuesday's board meeting, ``Is it more important to win, or is it more important to have kids play, which may give you a less successful team?''

And because activities -- including sports, arts and academics -- get little of their funding from the school district's budget, the school board has questions about who controls the programs.

The board will hold a work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday to try to define its concerns.

Board members won't talk publicly about parents' individual complaints. And some members said parents won't speak out publicly because they fear coaches' retribution against their children.

But some board members have said they want to be sure coaches' expectations for students are uniform, explicitly stated and fairly applied.

They've heard complaints about how students are selected for or removed from programs, and whether funds and fund-raising opportunities are distributed fairly among activities.

In the passion for competition, some programs raise funds for national trips and encourage students to work out during the off season. Some board members are concerned it cuts into academics, family life or other activities. And they wonder if the expenses discourage low-income students from trying out.

The board's Policy Committee has been talking about requiring coaches to put participation criteria in writing. The school district's regulations already say that's expected. Right now, some coaches write down their criteria in detail and others don't, said Sandi Wagner, the activities director at Juneau-Douglas High School.

Board President Stan Ridgeway is concerned coaches may be requiring off-season open gyms and summer camps, and those may break the Alaska School Activities Association's rules on practices.

The association sets the first and last day of practices, Executive Director Gary Matthews said from Anchorage. But it doesn't have any rules about off-season contact between coaches and students, he said.

The ASSA board may produce guidelines next year, Matthews said. He said the board has a growing expectation that off-season participation should be a student's choice and shouldn't affect team membership.

Wagner said she has told JDHS coaches they can't base team membership on off-season attendance. But coaches also say that in the competitive environment of varsity sports, students need to work out year-round to be good enough to play.

``The bottom line in this day and age - if you're not doing something outside of season, the rest of your teammates are going to pass you by,'' Wagner told the Policy Committee recently.

Less competitive students can still participate at the junior varsity level, said cheerleading coach Robin Eleazer.

JDHS cheerleader Sarah Herrick, co-captain of the team, said the extra time pays off.

``There's a lot of time you put into it, but I want to do it,'' she said. ``I don't think it takes away from family time. It's not like I'm not home every night for dinner.''

Mike Herrick, Sarah's father, said he's grateful cheerleading keeps his daughter busy, and he's thankful it's so competitive because that holds her interest.

``I know if my daughter weren't in some kind of after-school activity, there would be a big hole in her life, and I don't now what she would fill it with,'' Herrick said.

The quality coaches demand is necessary to show students they're capable of attaining high levels, Mike Herrick said. It's inspiring to go to national competitions, he added.

But he also acknowledged it's expensive. His family spent $2,000 this past year on Sarah's summer camps, a winter trip to the University of Washington to work out with college cheerleaders, and expenses for regional and state tournaments.

Activities at JDHS include sports, drama, music, student government, the yearbook and other academic or artistic pursuits as part of a well-rounded education. Some board members are concerned coaches discourage students from participating in more than one activity.

Some board members also were surprised to learn that about $350,000 was raised for JDHS activities in the 1998-1999 school year. That's in addition to $132,000 from school district funds, gate receipts and student participation fees. Fund raising pays for uniforms, supplies and travel outside of the athletic region.

``I think the numbers are pretty shocking when you first see them,'' said board president Ridgeway.

The board is concerned about fairness in funding among the programs and giving the different activities an equal chance to participate in schoolwide fund-raising events. Board members also want to be able to track the money better.

Some programs raise a lot of money in order to travel outside the state. The Policy Committee, in a preliminary draft, has said the superintendent must approve all Outside travel. Right now, it's up to the teams.

Last year all of the cheerleaders wanted to go to a national competition, said co-captain Herrick. Students raised about $1,100 each for the trip, including $300 per family for airfare, she said.

Cheerleaders work in exchange for donations, doing things like picking up litter or parking cars during a basketball tournament, and coach Eleazer said that teaches values.

But there are concerns that student fees and fund raising, which sometimes requires donations from participants' families, may discourage low-income students from joining activities.

``If there's a pay-to-play fee, that can have a chilling effect,'' said ASAA director Matthews.

The school makes sure no one is excluded from a team for lack of money, said activities director Wagner. But she said some low-income kids may not try out for activities because of the expenses.

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