Change would give CMS freshmen a clean slate on eligibility

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is fast-tracking a policy change that would give ninth-graders a clean slate for fall athletic eligibility, effective with tryouts that start Aug. 1.

Currently students who fall below a 2.0 grade-point average (a C average) or 85 percent attendance during their last semester of eighth grade are ineligible for ninth-grade sports and other school-sponsored activities.

Proponents say the change, which is up for a vote Tuesday, will help motivate new high school students at a crucial point in their academic career, even if they struggled in middle school. Ninth-graders will have to meet the GPA and attendance standards first semester to remain eligible second semester.

Students who miss school and fail classes in ninth grade are at risk of failing to graduate. Many say sports and other activities can motivate students who might otherwise give up on academics.

“There could be people who would say it looks like we’re watering down our standards,” said board member Tom Tate, who chairs the policy committee. But he said most principals, central office staff and board members believe the benefits outweigh any drawbacks.

Policy changes normally take a month or more, with the proposal introduced at one board meeting, followed by public hearings at the next two meetings and a vote after the second hearing. However, the board is invoking a policy that lets members waive public comment “when the timely passage of the policy is necessary to ensure the efficient operation of the school district.”

Tate said Friday he doesn’t know why staff brought the proposal to the board so close to the August tryouts. The four-member policy committee unanimously approved the proposal July 10.

CMS polled high school and middle school principals about the change and found strong support, Tate said. A few middle school principals raised concerns about removing an incentive for eighth-grade attendance and grades, he said, but “it wasn’t sufficient to not go forward.”

Fall sports include football, men’s soccer, cross country, cheerleading and women’s golf, tennis and volleyball.

It was not clear Friday how many freshmen normally sit out based on eighth-grade attendance and grades. CMS offices are closed Fridays during the summer, and board Chairwoman Mary McCray did not respond to calls and emails seeking further information Friday afternoon.

A write-up included with the board agenda says the revised policy is consistent with N.C. High School Athletic Association rules.

“This change is overwhelmingly supported by middle and high school principals as a way to positively engage young people in high school from their first days in 9th grade,” it says. “It is also supported by research showing the academic and social benefits of students being engaged in school activities and having positive relationships with adult mentors and peers, such as coaches, club sponsors, and teammates.”