Zero ‘F’ policy may make the grade


F is for football and fun
– which is exactly what high school students may have to forego
should they receive a failing mark in any class come fall 2011.
F is for football and fun – which is exactly what high school students may have to forego should they receive a failing mark in any class come fall 2011.

The Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education is studying possible changes to eligibility standards, with one change standing above the rest: Get an F, and you’re out of activities until the next quarter.

“We want our kids to go pro in just about everything,” said John Perales, Christopher High School principal. “But rarely do they go pro in athletics.”

Trustees may also consider allowing a one-time probation period during a student’s high school career that would take into account extenuating circumstances for the failing grade.

Once a student uses it, they will have to wait until the next quarter if their poor performance in the classroom makes them ineligible again.

This possible scenario exempting students from sports, prom, band, choir or the associated student body could be a reality starting next year if GUSD trustees cement talks of tightening what is already the most “comprehensive and rigorous requirements” for high school extracurricular and cocurricular eligibility in the San Benito, Monterey, Santa Cruz and South Santa Clara counties according to CHS Athletic Director Darren Yafai.

During a Jan. 13 board meeting when Sanchez, Perales and Yafai spoke about GUSD’s extracurricular and co-curricular policy packet, trustees appeared to be leaning towards the idea of exercising a zero F tolerance when it comes to eligibility standards.

“This is not something new,” said Marco Sanchez, Gilroy High School principal, at the meeting. “It’s a standard for NCAA athletes. We use it at the collegiate level. We’d just be extending it to the high school level.”

As a part of routine maintenance, GUSD trustees constantly re-examine, tweak, explore or adjust school policies. This ensures expectations are in effect, up-to-date and congruent with the California School Board Association – a collaborative organization that supports school board members, superintendents and senior administrative staff.

Though Perales, Sanchez and Yafai are former scholar athletes and expressed empathy for juggling extraneous activities with studies, the general consensus was books come first.

“Academically, how do you argue failing classes?” Perales asked.

Rhoda Bress, GUSD school board president, echoed this concern Wednesday over the phone.

“Our policies have to promote our primary objective, which is educating students,” she said.

Allowing students to participate in extracurricular activities when they’ve got, say, an F in algebra, she rationed, is clearly in conflict with the primary objective.

Current policy mandates a student cannot have a grade point average below 2.0, more than one F or more than one “N” mark – needs improvement – on their citizenship evaluation.

Perales said the emphasis on elements such as being on time and being a good citizen keeps the eligibility standards well-rounded.

“A lot of districts don’t have that,” indicated Perales referring to emphasis by CHS and GHS on “character counts. “(A student) can be a total jerk, be late for class and still play sports,” he said.

A chart created by Yafai shows out of 18 schools in the Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and South Santa Clara counties, CHS and GHS are the only institutions who enforce all three of those stipulations – no more than one F, a 2.0 minimum GPA and good citizenship. During the Jan. 13 meeting, trustees discussed the idea of a “one-time” probation period for a student’s four-year high school career, which is currently not part of GUSD policy. After that, the student would have to wait until the next quarter for a fresh start.

The probation period would take into account extenuating circumstances for a failing grade.

“We have a high expectation, but we know that life happens with kids,” Perales carefully pointed out amid dialogue. “We support the no F policy, as long as there is consideration for life.”

With that policy in place, Yafai calculated based on current grades, 67 GHS students would lose eligibility; CHS would lose 50.

Bress asked Perales, Sanchez and Yafai to return in February with a detailed, revised policy laying out new stipulations discussed in the meeting. Nothing is set in stone and revisions will likely volley back and forth, but Bress said she didn’t hear any board members speak against the no F policy idea, though some nodded their heads at the need for a probation period.

“I’m in favor of the no F policy as long as there’s a probationary period attached to it,” stipulated newest trustee Dom Payne over the phone Tuesday, adding he’s happy the board is considering a probationary period at all.

Trustee Mark Good said he’s in favor of the no F policy as well, but is leaning against the probation period with the exception of extraordinary circumstances such as family crisis.

“You almost have to work as hard to get an F, as you do to get an A,” he said over the phone Thursday. “You have to intentionally not put any effort into the schoolwork.”

Though keeping grades up is key, Perales, Sanchez and Yafai stressed balance, as uncontrollable factors affecting academic performance such as unstable home life and deaths in the family need to be considered.

“Kids shouldn’t have Fs,” said Yafai, “but John and Marco and I are real adamant there’s gotta be a little bit of give.”

Perales recalled a scenario of a student who wasn’t doing well socially and academically, but experienced a major turnaround after getting involved with sports. He said it’s important to remember when students are involved in extracurricular activities, they’re less likely to get in trouble, attendance rates are more consistent and graduation rates are higher.

“We want to make sure we don’t lose kids that we may capture with sports,” he said. “But such a small percentage of the (sports) dream happens. The college dream is what we have to strive for.”

Should policy revisions take place, which could be by fall 2011, Perales assured students and parents would be given plenty of notification. Sanchez pointed out with the current policy, a student could potentially receive two failing grades and still have a 2.0 GPA.

“The primary purpose is student athlete,” he said. “Not athlete student.”

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