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Separate Participation Policies for Athletics, Activities

By Steffen Parker on March 17, 2020 hst Print

Students who wish to participate in their high school’s athletic offerings must agree to abide by the school policies that govern that effort. Oftentimes, there are general policies and then a specific set of guidelines tailored for each individual sport.

These policies include attendance requirements for practices and games, academic requirements and other information such as dress code and behavior both in and out of school.

Before each season, students and their parents may be required to sign a contract stipulating not only their agreement with those policies but their understanding of the consequences if the policy requirements are not met.

What about the student who participates in other school activities – an aspect of education that is just as valid and valuable as being a part of a team or competing in any sport? Should similar guidelines be used to ensure that students representing their school in band competitions, at drama festivals or on the Scholars bowl team are achieving success in the classroom and are active in their activity’s preparation?

More and more schools are requiring students who participate in these activities to meet certain criteria in terms of grades, attendance and behavior – and some schools have a student contract for those students and their parents to sign. However, just as there should not be one athletic policy for every sport, there should not be one participation policy for every activity. While on the surface athletics and activities appear as though they could be governed by the same set of guidelines, the unique nature of most activities precludes such a blanket approach.

Developing an equitable set of guidelines for each activity requires a clear understanding of how that activity is related to any corresponding school or course work – and how it functions as an educational opportunity for the students. Some parts of the general policies used for athletics can be applied to activities as well. As an example, inappropriate behavior by students is the same regardless of whether the person is an athlete, a band member, a thespian or a student. However, that may be where the similarities end and the real challenge in setting policies begins, with the goal to be fair not only to the activity participants. but to their classmates involved in sports.

Athletics is fairly clear-cut – team activities occur outside of the school day, are not connected to any course or class taught during the school day, and do not receive any credit or entry on a transcript. Most activities have a direct connection to a class offered for credit during the school day, and many of those classes require participation in an after-school or weekend event as part of their grading or credit system.

Other activities are indirectly connected to a class where class time is used to promote, develop or prepare for the after-school portion. Students may receive extra credit in those classes for participating in the activity or be allowed to use that participation in lieu of other classwork. Clearly, one size cannot fit all.

In developing activity participation policies, schools should review their athletic policies as a starting place, and it is possible that the general policies on behavior and academic eligibility would be appropriate for activities with minimal modifications. However, there should be more specific policies for each activity and how it is – or is not – connected to a credit class taught in school by a licensed professional.

After-school music activities, with a need for full participation by the in-school ensemble class members and their possible inclusion in the grading for those courses, require a special approach when developing participation policies. The activities director should be aware of how the music teacher perceives and includes those activities in order to formulate the guidelines that are needed to balance the requirements between athletics and activities. Including the music educators in any discussion about these policies will lead to better policies that are easily enforceable and show support for students rather than regulation.

Special care should be given to activities that are extensions of a class, but not a direct offshoot. Drama club members who are in a school’s acting classes or Model UN members who are in the civics course may or may not receive credit for those efforts, but certainly are better students for that effort.

Making sure that participation requirements do not hinder a student who may excel in that class, but challenged in others, is critical to overall student success as well as having the very best represent your school in all such events. Clear expectations always generate clear results; the better those guidelines define what is expected, the more likely those goals will be achieved by everyone involved.

As participation guidelines for activities and athletics are created and developed, always involve the principal players, and keep the focus on the student. Providing expectations that support their efforts in the classroom without crippling their opportunities to excel outside of those four walls should be the primary goal of any such policy. Summ cuique - Each to his own. 

Valuable information for this article was provided by Mike Jabour, activities director at South Burlington (Vermont) High School and Jeff Moreno, athletic director at Hartford (Vermont) High School.