The District hosted several members of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) in Pensacola today at the auditorium of Washington HS. Three members of the organization gave an overview of the FHSAA, to include: historical information, budget information, and a description of the rules, regulations and by-laws of the organization.
The audience consisted mainly of coaches, athletic directors, school principals, and other miscellaneous administrators. Two School Board Members and the Board's General Counsel were also present at this morning's session. The briefing pointed out several areas of changes to eligibility that have been driven by recent legislation. Transfer students, recruitment, and eligibility were topics that drew many questions. For my part as a policymaker, I wanted to know about crafting a policy that is more restrictive than the current FHSAA policies, and the answer to my query on this (whether or not we could) was, "Yes".
In a sidebar conversation I had at the break with one of the FHSAA representatives, I learned a few other interesting things:
1. FHSAA Investigations of previous malfeasance are typically limited to one to two years going back.
2. Districts that have had issues with recruiting and eligibility in Florida have typically crafted strong policies, stronger that what FHSAA requires.
3. Examples of districts that have intelligent, fair, yet more restrictive policies on athletics than FHSAA, meant to discourage unethical practices, include Hillsborough County and Pasco County in the Tampa Bay area.
4. When I asked this FHSAA individual about the phenomenon of students churning from school to school, yet meeting one or more of the six "exceptions" to maintain their athletic eligibility, I was told wryly that "the reality of the situation is that if an athlete has the intent to frustrate the protocols, particularly in this era of school choice and social mobility-- these [FHSAA] rules won't prevent that"
5. FHSAA has no geographic distance transfer policy. (But I think we need one locally and I'll be bringing suggested language that speaks to this---to prevent students from moving over the county line to compete against their former teams--- a la the student who cycled between Washington HS and Milton HS.)
So, my overall takeaway from this session, combined with what I've learned over the last 60 days, is that we need to act locally to make a rock-solid policy that addresses this transfer-eligibility-recruitment issue, particularly as it pertains to students as they make their HS choices between 8th and 9th grade.
I think students and parents should be notified that a (1) one year athletic participation sanction will be imposed if a voluntary transfer is requested after 20 days of the start of the 9th grade year. This will ensure that much consideration is given to the choice of where a student initially enrolls. This will drastically reduce (if not eliminate) the shuttling between schools for "more playing time" or a "better athletic program."
School Choice should also ask about and document the potential transfer student's (post 9th grade) previous athletic participation, specifically what sports such student has played over the previous 2 school years.
Furthermore, the issue of returning from a magnate school to the home zoned district HS needs to be watched, and the same transfer sanction must apply.
In only the most extreme cases of hardship or LEGITIMATE family circumstances, a committee of the superintendent's staff could recommend a waiver from the board policy. It needs to be the exception, not the rule.
I'm going to look carefully at what other districts like Hillsborough and Pasco are doing and hopefully we can replicate some of their best practices on this issue.
And Finally-I'm going to push the idea that we show leadership on this issue by asking our sister districts with whom we compete, as well as the private schools with whom we compete, to honor these same policies as well. This request should be communicated officially by our district administrators, and the outcome should be discussed publicly, often, and with the media. We should all be competing on a level playing field; while these suggestions will not be an absolute guarantee of this--if implemented I believe they will be light years ahead of where we have been on this issue historically.