L-D School District hears first reading of new eligibility policy

A more equitable academic eligibility policy that has students in both middle and high school playing by the same rules was discussed by the Lead-Deadwood School Board. Pioneer photo by Jaci Conrad Pearson

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LEAD — One “F” during any given weekly grading period could sideline a student in the Lead-Deadwood School District from participating in extracurricular activities for one week.

This is the major change to the district’s eligibility policy, the first reading of which was heard by the Lead-Deadwood School Board Jan. 11.

“The expectation is going to be that kids are passing every class,” Superintendent Dr. Erik Person said of the newly drafted policy. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask, if you want to participate in co-curriculars, pass your classes.”

In August 2021, school officials began the school year by following the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) eligibility guidelines and decided to revisit the district’s policy in the coming months.

Person said the new policy will go into effect at the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

“We will use the spring semester to gather data and see how, if we applied the new policy, it would impact our students,” Person said. “We will also use the spring semester to get teachers used to the practice of keeping grades updated weekly and to work with families to access the data to track grades on a weekly basis.”

The policy, drafted by Lead-Deadwood Activities Director Paul Nepodal, applies to all students grades 6-12 and sets forth the following.

To be eligible for extracurricular activities, students must meet the requirements of the SDHSAA and earn a minimum of two credits for a semester and be in good standing as a member of the student body, as well as meeting the following standards: Any 6-12 participant must be passing all current classes. They may not have an “F” in any class for the current weekly grading period. Each participant’s grades will be checked each week on Friday at 8 a.m. If the participant has an “F” as a current grade, they will be deemed ineligible for that week, eligibility will go from Sunday through Saturday; all students will be eligible at the beginning of the fall and winter semesters. There will be a two-week grade period to start both semesters where grades are monitored then eligibility will start at the end of the second week. If a student has not passed the minimum two credits the prior semester, they are deemed ineligible by the SDHSAA for the entire semester; a failing grade list and a danger/watch (D grade) list will be sent out to staff, coaches, and advisors each week. It is the responsibility of the coach/sponsor to check the list for eligibility and inform the student of their status. It is the student’s responsibility to monitor their grades and maintain eligibility.

Academically ineligible students will be allowed to practice, but may not travel with the team, sit on the bench, or be a part of the team during competition.

All activities are subject to the eligibility rule. In regard to band and vocal music, students will be eligible to participate in local concerts and performances during their ineligibility suspension, as those are considered curriculum. This does not include contests and other extra-curricular performances.

“For me, the couple things are, it’s consistent now from 6-12 for all of our activities across these two buildings that are participating for us as a school district and second, we are going to catch a few because they’re used to doing it every four and one-half weeks,” Nepodal said. “The realistic part is, we’re here to get you to try to pass classes and get a diploma and this is a pretty effective way, I think, for a lot of these kids to understand that and the teachers, as well.”

High School Principal Mark Jacobs said the former model gauged kids’ progress every four and one-half weeks.

“This type of policy puts these conversations every week – every Friday, every Monday,” Jacobs said. “Where we’re visiting with the kids, we’re visiting with parents, we’re moving their study halls to get them in place where they may be falling behind. Then, if a student does become ineligible, they’re not out for a significant time period.”

Person said a challenge is going to be teachers keeping their grades up to date.

“I think we can all agree that’s what’s best for kids, is to have timely feedback,” Person said. “There will be a little bit of training involved, getting people used to the procedure and that kind of thing. We’re aware of some of the drawbacks to this. We think the positives much outweigh that.”

School Board Member Amber Vogt said she thinks the policy is good and needed.

“For the kids, I think it’s needed. I think it’s going to be a huge change for some teachers,” Vogt said.  

Vogt expressed concern with the consistency.

“We have a lot of sports teams that are going to really struggle when they have three kids out, and that just needs to happen,” Vogt said. “If that’s the way it is, then that’s the way it is. I don’t want to hear a complaint from a parent ‘My kid got to play, my kid didn’t.’”

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