Despite a spirited debate, the School Board has retreated from its policy of a 2.0 grade-point average for East Baton Rouge athletics.
The 9-0 vote in favor of a 1.5 gpa for athletic participation — essentially, redefining a C average as 1.5 or above, instead of 2.0 or above — was tentative, but the board is likely to confirm the decision next week. When it does, we hope that board members, coaches and administrators will take a clear-eyed look at what the consequences of this lowering of standards might mean.
For the record, new Superintendent Warren Drake said it is not about lowering standards but “saving lives and mentoring students.”
The best case for this was presented by teachers union President Carnell Washington, a former track coach.
He said two longtime coaches persuaded him it was a good idea to shift back to a 1.5 minimum gpa. One coach offered this reason to him: “You would have 150 kids on this campus under adult supervision who aren’t now, and their mama would know where they are.”
We hope that this is the case, but we submit that they’re not expanding the number of students on their teams. The coaches are instead reaching for academically floundering students who can perform on the field or the court.
In 2005, the board declared that 2.0 is a C average as required by the state athletics council, but few other systems have followed East Baton Rouge’s lead. A C average has been required by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association since 2012, but the association leaves it to the systems to define what a C is.
The EBR board’s new C is definitely lower. In many schools in the system with poor academic performance, the capacity of a student to take on the time demands of athletics or other extracurricular activities is questionable.
There’s a danger that those “rescued” by this lowering of standards will not even complete their educations, much less stay eligible for long on the team.
We note that the academic support system for athletes at LSU is well-funded because of the success of football and other sports, but that keeping the poorer student-athletes academically eligible is a challenge.
In high schools, with fewer coaches and limited resources for counselors or tutors, it might be just about impossible to have students with a 1.5 average handle academic work and perform well on the ball field, too.
LHSAA also requires students earn a minimum number of course credits to maintain eligibility; the number varies depending on whether schools use a traditional or a block schedule.
Other states have set a higher bar than Louisiana has.
What about the sensible suggestion from board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson? She said that mandatory tutoring should be part of this arrangement.
It’s quite likely that good coaches will stress academics, if only to keep quality players from becoming academically ineligible.
The system should encourage that emphasis as a matter of policy.