The State Board of Education voted Thursday to reverse itself and move forward with a change that would require students to pass all their classes to remain eligible to play sports and participate in other activities. Last month the board had voted 5-4 to keep the current standard that requires students to pass only four of six classes to remain eligible. Governor Vilsack met with boardmembers after that vote and pressured them to change their minds. Boardmember Greg McClain of Waterloo has been critical of the board’s lack of action on the issue. After today’s vote he said it was still not enough.He says, “We’ve just finally made just a little progress. So now all the opposition are gonna come out of the woodwork now. But, we’re going to keep fighting, because I know that we’re doing the right thing.” McClain says you can still get a “D-minus” in all your classes if the increased standard is approved.”I have this thing in my head that says that extracurricular activities is a, is a privilege,” he says. He says academics comes first and then extracurricular activities are a privilege that has to be earned. Some argued that athletics keeps kids in school who might otherwise drop out. McClain doesn’t agree. He says, “You don’t give the privilege first to see if the privilege is going to improve academic achievement. That’s backwards. You prove that you can do the work academically, then your reward is the extracurricular participation.” McClain says that’s the way he was raised and how he raised his daughter. Board Chair Gene Vincent of Carroll voted against raising the standard last month, and did the same in the latest vote.He says, “I’m not opposed to raising the standard. I think that if we’re going to raise the standard, I’d like to have some type of placement that we help the student that’s does not make it. I agree with many of my colleagues on the board, a “D-minus” is not where we want to be. It’s not what I see from most school districts.” Vincent says a majority of the districts have standards above the current minimum. He says he’s seen some unique proposals with the way they’re helping students. He says they’re helping not only the athletes, but all their students. Vincent says that’s what he’s about, helping all students. The board will vote in November to give formal notice that it plans to change the rule. The rule then must go to a legislative committee. There’ll then be public hearings in January and February. The board would then take a vote to formally adopt the rule in March.The change if given final approval would not take place until the next school year.After the Board of Education rejected the tougher standard last month, Governor Tom Vilsack rebuked those who voted against requiring high school athletes to at least pass all their courses. “I’m pleased that they’re making the adjustment. I’m glad that they are establishing a ‘no fail’ threshhold,” Vilsack says. “I think it’s important to understand that whatever the state board does, it sets a minimum and school districts and empowered and encouraged to set an even higher standard,” Vilsack says. The governor met with the Board of Education over breakfast a few weeks ago to criticize their earlier decision.”And just expressed my hope and desire that they would send a different message,” Vilsack says. “If we’re going to talk about more rigorous and more relevant high school experiences, we just simply can’t have a standard that accepts failure…and I think the board understands that.” Critics of the tougher state standard for athletes’ academics say it should be up to local school boards to set the rules for student athletes. Vilsack says with local control comes local responsibility, and he’s encouraging schools to set an even higher classroom standard for not only student athletes, but all high school students.
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