The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

School board looks to tighten eligibilit­y rules for student athletes

- By Austin Mirmina austin.mirmina@hearstmedi­

EAST HAVEN — The Board of Education is discussing whether to tighten academic eligibilit­y requiremen­ts for student athletes, a change that may exclude dozens from competing.

East Haven Public Schools' current policy states that students who fail more than one class during a marking period are ineligible to participat­e in sports and other co-curricular activities, such as music competitio­ns, clubs, field trips, prom and school dances. Students who receive more than one failing grade must wait at least one marking period before eligibilit­y can be restored, according to the policy.

But some board members have said they believe the policy should be more stringent, particular­ly for student athletes, prohibitin­g those who fail at least one class from playing in their respective sport. The board also is considerin­g revising its policy so that any student athlete who earns lower than a “C” grade cannot serve as a team captain.

Board of Education member Dominic Milano said during a recent Policy Standing Committee workshop that he thinks the current school policy is “too lenient.”

“You shouldn't be allowed to have an ‘F' at all,” Milano said. “We're doing (student athletes) an injustice. Our children should be putting as much into academics as they are their sports.

“I think our captains who represent our athletics and our academic students need to lead by example, and if you're going to have a ‘C' on your chest, you have to have a ‘C' or above in your grades or you shouldn't be a captain,” Milano continued. “If it falls below a ‘C,' your captainshi­p gets stripped. Put your time and effort into learning. Sports is a secondary.”

At least two other board members have said they agree with Milano's hardline policy suggestion. Whether the board believes it should extend that requiremen­t to students involved in other co-curricular activities remains to be seen, and likely will be the focus of future policy workshops.

If approved, the policy revision could prevent dozens of East Haven student athletes from playing sports. Of the high school's 245 current student athletes, 24 would have been deemed ineligible following the first marking period, and 42 after the second marking period, if the board had revised the policy prior to the 2022-23 school year, according to Director of Athletics Anthony Verderame.

“You shouldn't have 42 kids with an ‘F,' ” board member Thomas Hennessey said. “We should be embarrasse­d by that.”

Only one student failed more than one course during the second marking period, and that person was dealing with a medical issue, Verderame said.

Superinten­dent of Schools Erica Forti told the board that the biggest contributo­r to the failing grades is “students not handing in the work” and that an afterschoo­l tutorial — run by Verderame — is a resource already available to athletes who are struggling to complete their work.

Verderame cautioned the board against tightening the policy too much, saying that doing so could hurt student athletes who seem to perform better academical­ly during the sports season.

“We have a number of student athletes ... that struggle academical­ly that get it up for sports,” Verderame said. “Their grades improve, their attendance improves, their charisma around the building is just better during sports.

“If we make things too stringent, we're going to be eliminatin­g kids from something very positive,” the athletic director added.

Verderame also warned that a stricter policy likely would result in students choosing not to enroll in more rigorous courses, such as Advanced Placement classes, in favor of less challengin­g ones, to ensure they remain eligible.

East Haven imposes much stricter academic eligibilit­y requiremen­ts for its student athletes compared to those set forth by the Connecticu­t Interschol­astic Athletic Conference, which only requires that students pass at least four courses per marking period, according to Verderame. EHHS students are able to take up to eight courses per marking period, officials said.

The district's co-curricular policy has certain exceptions; for example, a student who flunks more than one class during the fourth and final marking period can become eligible to participat­e in the fall if they make up the work during summer school.

“Our whole goal with this is to improve their grades and improve the amount of credits they get so they can move on to the next year,” Verderame said. “I just ask for an opportunit­y to work with them to get them there.”

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