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School board reconsiders athletic policy

August 16, 2013
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - School officials are trying to find ways to make the Lake Placid Central School District's athletic policy work better.

District Athletic Director Matt Walentuk presented proposed revisions to the policy Aug. 6 to the school board, along with 11th-grade English teacher Brenden Gotham, who was part of the committee that worked it.

He explained that the current one hadn't been reviewed since 2007 and was ineffective in several areas.

For one, the protocol for deciding when a student's grades should make him or her ineligible to play in games wasn't working. It was up to teachers to figure out the cumulative grades of student-athletes, and if it was below a 65, the teacher would have to send a note or an email to Walentuk.

"When we looked at this policy, I was not getting a lot of those letters in my mailbox," he said. He said more than 40 students were failing at one point during their athletic season, and "there were not anywhere close to that that was reported to me this year."

Walentuk and his committee are looking to take the burden off of teachers and finding a more consistent, reliable reporting system. Instead, every five weeks, a guidance counselor will run a report in the district's grade reporting system. Any student-athlete who is failing - has below a 65 average in - more than one class will be ineligible to play in games for the next two weeks, Walentuk said.

After two weeks, guidance will check in on that student's grades and if they have improved, the student can play. If not, the student will be checked once a week for the following two weeks, until another five-week check is done for all student-athletes.

"It's fair to all our athletes," Walentuk said of the new system.

There was also previously an out for students who were academically ineligible to play. The student would get his or her coach, parents and teachers to sign a contract that let them keep playing. It became a game for students to be able to get people to sign the contracts.

"To be honest, to be blunt, it was a disaster," Gotham said. "In this policy, there is no contract."

Gotham said academic eligibility affects maybe 10 to 15 percent of the district's student-athletes.


Drugs, alcohol and tobacco

Another significant revision to the athletic policy is what would happen when a student is caught consuming, possessing or selling drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

If the student is caught doing so at school or at a school event, the student would be suspended from 50 percent of the season's regularly scheduled games and referred to a substance abuse counselor.

If the season ends before the athlete sits out all those games, the student has to sit out games in the next sports season he or she plays in. But that was becoming a problem, because students would join a sports team they had never played on before just to sit out a few games and then quit, so the new policy requires that the student complete the season with that team for it to count.

"They need to fulfill their obligation to the team," Walentuk said.

It also seeks to correct some issues with drug, alcohol and tobacco possession or use not at school functions or on school property. In the past, there were rumor mills about who was at what party and doing what.

"With our old policy, we tended to suspend the honest athletes," Walentuk said. "And for being honest, you were being severly disciplined."

That created what district Superintendent Roger Catania called a wall of silence, creating an adversarial relationship between parents and school officials. Catania was also on the committee that examined the policy.

"The policy has gotten more ineffective over time because of this wall with parents," Gotham said.

In the proposed policy, if a coach hears about a student at a party, the coach would meet with the student, his or her parents, the school's principal and the athletic director and talk about what to do.

"The big thing is, coaches want to be able to have a conversation," Walentuk said.

The new policy would also make some changes to allow absences from practices, suspensions and appeals, and what happens when a student is late or absent from school on the day of a game.



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