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Eligibility policy explored

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Cherokee School District will be examining the eligibility policy for participation in extracurricular activities, something that school districts do on a periodic basis.

The matter was discussed during approval of student handbooks for the 2006/07 school year at the Monday School Board meeting. The elementary and middle school handbooks were approved with minor modifications but Larry Hunecke, Washington High School principal, wanted to take some time with the good conduct eligibility rules. Hunecke believes that there are loopholes that need to be addressed.

The school board members, agreeing that the matter is important enough for further deliberations, will hold special policy committee meetings and a public hearing prior to approving the eligibility policy.

Kirk Ebel noted that the last time there were extensive modifications to the eligibility policy, there was a large committee involved in the process. He said that there doesn't need to be that many involved in the process this time.

He referred to one major change the last time the eligibility is a fairly substantial reduction in the penalty for a first offense.

"There is no perfect eligibility policy," said John Chalstrom, superintendent, "It is a code of ethics for students participating in extracurricular activities."

He explained that an offense under the eligibility policy is not the same as a crime under municipal, state or federal law. Eligibility for representing the school in an extracurricular activity is a privilege, not a property right like receiving classroom education.

Still, no other element of the school system creates more litigation than eligibility policies, Chalstrom noted. He said that some administrators in some districts have seriously considered dropping any good conduct eligibility policy, although Chalstrom was not personally advocating dropping all eligibility requirements.

Students who do not participate in extracurricular activities are not affected by eligibility requirements. There is no way to discipline such students for conduct off of school property.

Another item that Hunecke wanted further consideration on for the student handbook is the issue of hazing, often called initiation, usually done to freshman by older students. The school district staff has been taking Olweus training. Olweus is a K-12 anti-bullying program. Hazing is considered a form of bullying, the severity varying according to the situation.

Chalstrom pointed out that hazing is against the law in Iowa. He said that local law enforcement has spoken at Olweus training, and that law enforcement will support efforts for ending hazing.

As far as the illegality of hazing, it doesn't matter whether or not victims say they voluntarily participated. Hazing is illegal regardless of the question of being voluntary or not.

There was a consensus at the board meeting that for now, hazing should be considered under the rules regarding harassment without separately labeling it.

Hunecke also relayed a concern some teachers have that mid-term graduates are allowed to participate in the prom, although Hunecke was not personally concerned with this practice.

After asking whether such students have caused problems at proms and being told they had not, it was the consensus that mid-term graduates be allowed to participate in the prom.

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