Lower GPA for Dayton sports could keep students in school, leader says

Athletes in sports across Dayton Public Schools will have a new eligiblity requirement to compete. The school board lowered the grade-point average needed but added mandatory tutoring for those with lower GPAs. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
Athletes in sports across Dayton Public Schools will have a new eligiblity requirement to compete. The school board lowered the grade-point average needed but added mandatory tutoring for those with lower GPAs. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF

Supporters say a new Dayton Public Schools policy that lowers the grade-point average needed for students to take part in sports but adds academic intervention will keep more children enrolled and motivated.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association requires students to pass at least five one-credit courses or the equivalent during the most recent quarter. But OHSAA allows schools to set higher standards, which Dayton has had in place in recent years.

Dayton Public Schools’ policy has required students to earn at least a 2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale in order to play. The new policy approved Tuesday will allow students with a GPA between 1.0 and 1.99 to participate — if they enroll in their school’s Athletic Academic Intervention Program.

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Board member Sheila Taylor said the changes could help increase enrollment and keep kids in sports programs, where she said they are more likely to be around fellow students with shared goals.

“We’re still within the standards of OHSAA,” Taylor said. “Our students were expected to have a higher grade-point average than other schools, so that sets us up to lose students.”

Other school districts have a variety of policies on the issue. Fairmont and Centerville high schools require academic intervention for student-athletes with GPAs between 1.5 and 1.99, with those at 1.49 and below ineligible. Fairborn High School requires a flat 2.0 minimum GPA to be eligible. Troy and Stebbins require only the OHSAA minimum of passing five one-credit courses, with no GPA floor.

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Joe Lacey was the only school board member to vote against the change, saying it doesn’t take too much effort to get a “C” average, and the district should incentivize students to do so. He added that Dayton Public Schools has won numerous state championships with the existing 2.0 policy, and that the change would look bad after last year’s very public eligibility problems on the Dunbar football team.

“We just had a very big problem with academic eligibility and this, it looks like, is our response … that we’re going to lower the bar, and I think that sends the wrong message to our students,” Lacey said.

Superintendent Rhonda Corr said students in the intervention program could “get that relationship with a coach or teacher or someone who’s important to them, and have the study table policy … I think it might take a child who was ready to (drop out), and this could be the catalyst that keeps them there.”

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Taylor agreed, saying, “There’s proof that students who participate in extracurricular activities within the schools perform better … Then, the people they are hanging out with are their teammates as opposed to maybe someone out on the streets who doesn’t have the same goals.”

To remain eligible, those student-athletes whose GPA is between 1.0 and 1.99 must be taking at least five one-credit classes, and must remain enrolled in the academic intervention “for at least one calendar year, must attend all study tables, and must make satisfactory progress toward the established goal of a 2.0 GPA each academic quarter.”

There was initial confusion on the definition of progress toward a 2.0 GPA. DPS Athletic Director Mark Baker clarified Wednesday that the starting point would be the student-athlete’s GPA for the most recent academic quarter. In order to stay eligible, the student’s GPA would have to be higher in the next quarter.

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For example, a student with a 1.42 GPA in last spring’s fourth quarter can play football starting now if he is active in the intervention program, but if his first-quarter GPA in October is 1.42 or lower, he would lose eligibility at the start of the second quarter.

Baker said DPS is still in the process of figuring out how many students will be affected by the new policy, but said, “We believe it’s going to be a small percentage.” He said “an overwhelming number” of teachers have expressed interest in helping students in the intervention program. The mandatory study tables are one hour Monday through Thursday.

“We’re going to look at a number of different ways to assist them — certainly with our teachers but also with some peer tutoring,” Baker said. “The coaches have an expectation to be at the study tables to assist them as well.”

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The fall sports tryout window has passed, but Baker said if newly eligible students ask to play a fall sport — football, volleyball, soccer, cross country, golf or girls tennis — coaches will allow them to do so if they meet the intervention requirements. The policy applies to students in grades 7-12 for all extracurricular activities.

“We’re not just saying that it’s OK for a student-athlete to make the grade,” school board President Robert Walker said. “We want the district to be more proactive, where if there’s an athlete who isn’t able to make the grade, there will be those supports surrounding him or her and challenge them to be the best that they can be.”

Adil Baguirov abstained from the vote after first trying to find a middle ground. Ron Lee was absent. Taylor, Walker, Hazel Rountree and John McManus voted yes.

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