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Passing 'habits-of-work' grades new requirement for High School extracurricular eligibility

Not only will High School students need passing grades to participate in sports and extracurricular activities this year, but they'll need to keep up with their homework too.

The School Board on Oct. 10, 2017 voted unanimously to require passing habits-of-work grades for participation in extracurricular activities. Students will need a grade of at least 70 on habits of work, as well on academic grades, to participate in athletics or extracurricular activities.

The approved policy revisions are a little less stringent than those proposed by the board's policy subcommittee in September. Passing academic grades will still be required for all courses, but passing habits-of-work grades in all, or in all but one, course will also be needed. The phrase, "or all but one course," was not in the draft presented to the School Board but will be added to the final document.

The new standards, which primarily measure timely completion of homework and keeping appointments for extra help, are part of the school's migration toward state-mandated, proficiency-based education. All Maine schools are slated to award the first proficiency-based diplomas in 2020.

Associated revisions to the board's policy JJJ, "High School Cocurricular and Extracurricular Activities Eligibility and Code of Conduct," were tabled at the September School Board meeting to allow students to review, to fully understand, and to comment on the proposed changes.

"That was one thing we talked about to students, if there was just one class where there was some issue with timeliness ... that that would not preclude eligibility," said board member Barbara Powers, chair of the policy subcommittee.

The "tweak" to allow one failing habits-of-work grade was suggested by High School Principal Jeff Shedd after meeting with a broad range of students, Powers said. "And with that I'm very satisfied this is a reasonable first step for us in really encouraging the timeliness and the responsibility, responding to teachers that we're hoping for as we go down this path of habits of work," Powers said.

The Maine School Principals Association requires passing grades for extracurricular participation, said Powers.

Student reaction

Failure to maintain the standards will result in a loss of eligibility for two weeks, a consequence viewed as reasonable last month by one of the School Board's student representatives, but at the October meeting she said the policy was still confusing. Ali Ingalls, a junior at Cape High, said students were not sure if the time spent on improving habits would render them ineligible to participate anyway because they missed practice.

Still, she said she believed the revised policy would sit well with students. "I think adding that flexibility of one class sort of takes away the ambiguity of the teacher's decisions and allows a warning, or a chance for a student to get their grade up before being completely ineligible," she said.

Powers said she believed the consequence for missing practice because of habits-of-work ineligibility would be the same as those for academic ineligibility, but that Principal Shedd would work with students to clarify expectations and work through student concerns.