DES MOINES (AP) - The Iowa State Board of Education (BOE) on Thursday approved an amended version of its "no pass, no play" rule, requiring high school athletes to pass all their classes to remain eligible to play sports.
Under the amended standards, athletes are declared ineligible for 20 school days if they receive a failing grade at the end of their school's grading period.
The board's previous proposal would have made student athletes ineligible for 20 days if they were failing a class at any time, and would have required schools to check students' grades at least every four weeks.
The new standards also allow schools to check a student-athlete's progress on their own timetable, deferring eligibility and reinstatement actions to the school's discretion.
But the board stuck to its guns on its main objective - a statewide mandate that raises expectations for student-athletes.
"The most important thing I think was that we believe that all kids can learn, and that failure is not an option in a state that has high standards for education," said board member Mary Jean Montgomery, of Spencer. "Activities are a privilege, not a right."
The rule now goes before the Administrative Rules Review Committee on March 26. Barring action from the committee, which Iowa Board of Education administrative law judge Carol Greta said was unlikely, the new standards will go into effect July 1.
Though the new standards are tougher than the current rules, the penalty - 20 days instead of the current rule that keeps students out an entire semester if they don't pass four classes - has been lowered significantly.
"Right now a student just has to pass four courses. Now that you've upped that ante to where you have to pass them all, then it softens the period of ineligibility," Greta said.
The "no pass, no play" proposal has been widely criticized by local school officials, who spoke out against the rule in two public meetings in January and drove the board to revamp the rule.
School officials who attended the second and final public hearing on the issue Jan. 26 complained to state education officials that the proposal discriminated against low-income and minority students, gave the state too much control over local matters, discouraged students from taking challenging classes and took away opportunities from at-risk children.
"I don't think it was ever the intention of the board not to listen. I think it was the intention originally to promote discussion and then try and craft a rule change that would bring the local school districts into the decision-making process," said board member Charles Edwards, of Des Moines. "Local control and input is a very important part of the education process in Iowa."
Montgomery said the debate over student-athlete eligibility has raised the discussion over the importance of academics in Iowa.
"Whether it was mean-spirited discussions or not or anger against the board ... there probably isn't a school district in this state that hasn't talked about academics and eligibility in this state over the last six months," she said.