The Juneau School District has backed away from a proposed rule limiting sports teams and other activity groups to out-of-state travel only every other year.
Out-of-state travel gives teams tough competition and exposes Juneau athletes to college recruiters, Gary Lehnhart, a teacher and men's soccer coach at Juneau-Douglas High School, told the Juneau School Board on Tuesday night.
After hearing public testimony and board members' views, schools Superintendent Gary Bader agreed to drop the every-other-year provision. Still in effect is a new school district policy requiring the superintendent's prior approval for out-of-state travel and related fund-raising. Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The proposed rule was intended to encourage travel within Alaska because the perception is it often costs less than out-of-state travel, Bader said. Concerns have been raised about the cost of out-of-state travel.
"It has been an issue in the community that the fund-raising has put a lot of pressure on our business people," he said.
The rule is part of a package of regulations written by Bader in response to the school district's revised activities policy, which the board passed last school year. Bader consulted with the JDHS activities director and board members on the regulations, which implement the policy. But the board doesn't formally vote on them.
The new rules, which will take effect soon, also drop athletes from teams if they use or possess tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs during the season. The rules set a standard chemical-use contract, which cannot be altered by coaches or advisors, for students in activities.
School board member Deana Darnall, speaking at a board Policy Committee meeting Monday night, said she'd rather have those athletes practicing with their teams, even if they can't play.
"I want them in the gym working out, sweating, instead of somewhere drinking and smoking," she said.
The rules also require coaches to set written criteria for making teams, and forbid them from requiring or restricting attendance at events outside the season. The rules create a form students can use to evaluate coaches, similar to the teacher evaluations now in use.
But at Tuesday's school board meeting it was the out-of-state travel provision that attracted all the attention.
"I would be very unhappy if my son couldn't travel out of state and be seen around the country," said parent Michael Croan, who also teaches and coaches at Floyd Dryden Middle School. "To exclude kids every other year, I think, would be devastating to a program in this district."
Lehnhart said the men's varsity soccer team travels to Spokane, Wash., every year to play four games in early April when fields in Alaska aren't ready for the season.
"At this point it offers us four games in April we wouldn't be able to get, in incredibly tough competition," he said.
Parent Ray Vidic said Lehnhart has taken the soccer program to a higher level.
"That's what sports is about. It's about winning. It's about becoming better," he told the board.
School board members have been concerned that out-of-state travel takes students out of class for long periods and takes up their time soliciting funds.
School board member Chuck Cohen said fund-raising discourages low-income students from joining activities because their parents can't afford to buy a book of raffle tickets, for example.
The soccer team isn't funded by the school district. Students pay an activities fee, a soccer club fee and raise funds through soccer clinics for younger children, raffles, litter pick-up and chores.
Fund-raising pays for the out-of-state travel, Lehnhart said. Fund-raising efforts might add up to 40 hours a school year, and there's no quota of funds for students to raise, he said. The soccer team had the highest grade-point average of the teams at the state tournament last school year, he pointed out.