SVSU board adopts new athletics, activities eligibility policy

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BENNINGTON — The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board has unanimously adopted a new athletics and co-curricular activities eligibility policy. The decision represents the first update to the policy in seven years and codifies practices that have been in place on a trial basis.

"This one had a lot of newspaper public information about it," Vice Chairman Leon Johnson said before last week's vote. "It's been in the works for almost three years. It's just finalizing what we agreed to, what we were doing."

Johnson is a member of the SVSU policy committee, along with Dick Frantz, SVSU board chairman.

The policy goes into effect immediately, Frantz said.

Frantz praised MAU Activities and Athletics Director Ashley Hoyt for putting together details for the policy, "so that I think it will work."

The policy, No. 6330, was adopted by all the supervisory union's district school boards in 2019.

Under the new policy, middle school students' eligibility to play sports or participate in co-curricular activities hinges on students meeting standards for habits of work for each of their classes — specifically, having a "3" on the habits of work scale.

The scale goes from 1-4 and is different than a specific number grade, the Banner previously reported.

There's a rubric for teachers to follow that include things like effort, respect and responsibility, along with completing assignments, the Banner previously reported.

"If a kid has good habits, the chances of them meeting the standard is high," Hoyt previously said.

Grading on a 1-4 system has been in place for sixth-graders at MAUMS for years; the 2018-19 school year marked its expansion to all students at the school.

The 1-4 scale goes from 1 — beginning toward the standard "at this time," to progressing to a 2, to meeting the standard at 3, to excelling at the standard at 4.

The new policy calls for teachers of middle school students to submit reports on student habits of work every two weeks, on Fridays. Those reports would be shared with administrators and Hoyt. If it's determined a student hasn't met the requirements, they would be ineligible to participate for two weeks, beginning the following Monday.

"We want it to be every two weeks to be more frequent to have the kids stay on track," Hoyt previously said.

At MAUMS, the system of determining eligibility for athletics and extracurricular activities has been through maintaining a "3" in all habits of work and in all classes since academic year 2018-19, Hoyt said.

This policy, in essence, would codify that practice, she recently told the Banner.

"We didn't have a lot of kids getting ones and twos, but even when they did, the kids would bounce back quickly," Hoyt previously said. "There's not a lot of habitual offenders. It gives them the chance to fix it and learn from it. There's still a penalty, but having the chance to fix it and get back to athletics or activities is better."

Under the new policy, there is also a way to cut the two-week period of ineligibility in half.

A student would be required to complete a form that asks them to reflect on why they were determined ineligible and if the student feels they have improved that behavior over the course of that last week.

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The teacher will provide comments regarding the progress the student made over the previous week, based on evidence collected. The completed form has to be signed by the student, parent/guardian, teacher and athletic director.

"It's about getting the teachers to understand it and buying into it," Hoyt previously said. "The rubric makes it easy, if a student is meeting the standard, that's it. It's cut and dry."

The policy can be somewhat subjective, but, Hoyt previously said, there are ways to make it as clear as possible.

"The teachers have to have proof," Hoyt previously said. "For example, if a football player isn't getting a 3 and the parent goes to meet with the teacher, the teacher has all the documents to prove [why the student is ineligible]," she previously said. "We want to have good communication of what it's supposed to be and look like."

The policy also adds a provision that middle school students who receive out-of-school suspension, in-school suspension or a Saturday detention will also be ineligible for a two week period, and would not have the opportunity to regain eligibility before that two week period ends.

"We're also trying to create positive citizens in our community," Hoyt said of that change. "You can't act the way you should act — you shouldn't be doing these extracurricular things."

The policy also changes eligibility parameters for high school students, specifically that each student will no longer have to have an overall average of 70 percent for all courses combined in the marking period. Instead, they will be eligible with a minimum passing grade (65 or higher) in all courses.

"The majority of student-athletes would have an average higher than 70, but be failing one class," Hoyt previously said. "It just added to the confusion."

Eligibility standards for high school students under the new policy do not include reports on student habits of work.

Also, the code of conduct is stricter for all students under the new policy, with a first offense violation of the substance abuse policy carrying a suspension of one-quarter of the season, not to exceed four games. Repeat offenders may be immediately removed from the team or activity as determined by the athletic director.

"The goal of every athletic department is to provide a good experience, and provide our kids with the experience and tools necessary to become really positive parts of our community," Hoyt said.

So students who are continually abusing substances would not be desired to represent the athletic department, she said.

"Sports are a privilege," she said. "If you're not going to do your end then we don't want you to be participating on our teams. The big picture is, you need to focus on you. You need to focus on not using those substances."

The policy also adds a provision that "inappropriate use of social media, posts, [and] pictures" carry a minimum one-game activity suspension for all students.

This issue was not addressed in the prior policy.

"Social media is a great tool, but I can say that probably 65 to 70 percent of suspensions came from social media posts," Hoyt previously said.

The new policy also addresses participation in sports and activities by elementary school students, while the most recent policy did not.

The new policy requires elementary school students to sign an agreement or code of conduct that "aligns with the school's expectations" before participating in extracurricular activities, according to the policy. Coaches/advisors must report all safety and behavioral concerns to the school administration within 24 hours.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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