Athletes and other students participating in after-school activities in the Amphitheater School District could find themselves having to earn better grades.

The district's governing board discussed possibly making the eligibility requirements more rigorous at its Aug. 13 meeting. While the policy would deal with all extracurricular activities, the board's discussion focused mainly on students participating in sports.

The district's current policy states that in order to participate in an extracurricular activity, students must be passing all of their classes. A passing grade is a D or higher.

The governing board was presented with an option of changing the policy to requiring students participating in extracurricular activities to maintain a C average without failing any classes. That would mean a student could get a D in one class as long as it was offset by an A or B in another class.

If the option is approved by the board this year, it is unclear when the change would begin to affect students. Boardmember Nancy Young Wright said she thinks the board would be hard-pressed to have the policy go into effect during this school year.

Mike Bejarano, the district's director of interscholastics, said the option was presented to the board partially as a result of Sunnyside Unified School District recently changing its policy. Sunnyside students participating in extracurricular activities must now maintain a C or higher in every class.

Catalina Foothills High School has a similar policy, but students must maintain a C in every class because anything lower in that school is considered a failing grade.

Gene Repola, Sunnyside's associate superintendent of school operations, said the district had been discussing changing the eligibility policy for nearly two years.

Repola said at Sunnyside, students participating in sports actually have a higher grade point average than students who do not participate in sports.

He said that by raising the standards for a particular group of students, the district was hoping that those students would set an example for the general student population.

"If we raise the expectation, that will start a chain reaction," Repola said.

He said he should know in the next four weeks if that is happening, based on student progress reports.

Richard Hooley, Amphi's associate superintendent of school operations, said the district would be hoping for the same effect, but also said monitoring students could be a potential drawback for changing the policy.

Logically, Hooley said, more students would probably not be able to meet the standards of the new policy if the board approved it.

This could create a problem, Hooley said, because the administrative and non-teaching staff members that would be doing the monitoring were reduced two years ago due to budget cuts. In a given season, Hooley said up to 1,500 students in the Amphi district participate in extracurricular activities. According to information provided to the board, student athletes account for at least half that number.

If a student is failing a class at the end of the district's nine-week grading period, or if the student failed a class in the previous semester, the student is not eligible for participation in extracurricular activities, including sporting events, until that grade is pulled up to at least a D. Whenever that grade is raised, be it two days or two weeks, the student becomes eligible again.

Boardmember Mike Prout said students participating in extracurricular activities could, as a result of the district's current policy and the option presented to the board, be getting good grades for the wrong reason.

"Students should not be driven by a game schedule," Prout said. "That is not the right reason to get a C."

Patrick Nugent, head football coach at Canyon del Oro High School, said for some student athletes, the fear of not being able to play sports because of bad grades might be the only thing that keeps them from failing.

"You're always going to run into the couple kids that struggle," Nugent said. "There are kids who struggle in the classroom but do really well on the athletic field."

In order to closely monitor his players' grades, Nugent said he makes them have their teachers sign a document that proves they're passing their classes and if not, what they can do to pull their grade up by game day.

Nugent emphasized that he understands that for every student, no matter what activity they participate in, the goal in high school is to achieve academically, not athletically.

But for some students, academics are not their strong point and he thinks raising the standard would be an unfair punishment.

"My feeling is you don't want to eliminate kids and say 'You can't do this because you're getting a D.' I think we need to come up with an alternative. If a kid is getting a D, we need to monitor them by promoting other things like taking a study hall before he can go out to athletics. If you take the athletics from him, you're taking away something he really believes in."

Boardmember Nancy Young Wright said she was concerned that, if special attention were paid to student athletes and their academic success, the rest of the student population would be tossed aside.

"What kinds of study programs do we have for struggling students who aren't in sports?" she said.

"There may be other students who need instruction just as badly," added Prout.

Board members also shared concerns about students participating in extracurricular activities potentially not wanting to take more challenging classes in order to maintain their GPA's.

Bejarano said that is already happening, and Nugent added that method for choosing classes is not exclusive to student athletes.

"You're always going to have students, no matter what they do, who take classes just so they can get a good grade," Nugent said.

CDO Principal Mike Gemma said he understood that academics should be the goal for high school students, but remembered one student who played football at Saint Mary's High School in Phoenix, where Gemma began his career as a high school principal.

Gemma said the student, who he referred to as simply "Peter," was blessed with athletic talent, but "wasn't given much intelligence."

"The lone C he would occasionally get was an achievement, and if he got a D, that was great," Gemma explained to the board. "He changed everyone's minds (about changing the standards). I know what we're trying to do here, but I would hope that we wouldn't lose the Peters of our high schools."

Since only an option was presented to the board, rather than a recommendation to change the policy, nothing is set in stone, Bejarano said. The board will be looking at the option further at it's next board meeting Aug. 27.

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