Should students who are involved in co-curricular activities at their school be prohibited from participating if they have poor grades, or be allowed to continue in hopes that their academics will improve with their involvement?

It’s a complicated question with no clear answers, as many schools districts learn. Oak Park elementary school District 97 is also wrestling with that balance. The school board recently reviewed its policy relating to student participation in such activities as performing arts, chess or spoken word.

At its Nov. 16 regular meeting, every board member acknowledged the importance of students joining co-curriculars. Part of the debate, however, centered on whether participation was more of a privilege than a requirement. Another issue is the mandatory grade requirement for involvement that’s specified in the district’s policy.

Policy 2431 states that students need to maintain a 2.0 grade point average (out of a maximum 4.0) to remain eligible. A student must also not have a failing grade in any course for the grading period prior to participating in an activity.

Supt. Albert Roberts thinks the GPA should be higher, perhaps 2.5. Not as a punitive number, he said, but as a higher expectation for kids. Roberts added that students who are doing well in co-curricular activities and their classes are doing so because they’re managing their time well.

But if a student is not ditching class to attend their activity and is actually struggling in class, Roberts suggested having the student come up with his or her own plan on how they’re going to improve.

“I do think the 2.0 level is fairly low,” Roberts said, stressing that a students’ first responsibility is to their academics. “What I’m concerned about is that there is no back-out for a kid who perhaps is having a rough start with his education and doing his best in every class and really would benefit from a connection with a coach. There’s no leeway. When you say this is it in the policy, there’s no leeway for principals to make a judgment call based on the situation.”

Board members also talked about whether a student with 1.9 GPA should be allowed to participate. Peter Barber said his concern stems from kids who might only meet the minimum requirement GPA just to remain in their activity. He’s also concerned that some students might show more interest in their co-curriculars than their classes.

“This whole discussion seems to fly in the face of what’s we’re always talking about as far as raising the bar overall and really challenging students,” he said. “It is a privilege. What we owe you, what we’re responsible to is to provide you with a core curriculum. There is nothing in the school code that says we have to provide you with chess club, football or anything else. Those are all extras. So having some kind of requirement that would allow you to participate in those extras if you’re meeting our core expectations makes some sense to me.”

Board member Jim Gates, a retired Dist. 97 teacher, said students with very poor grades who are allowed in co-curriculars set a bad example to kids and staff.

“I understand what it does for kids’ egos but I also think that there is another side that this is a privilege to participate that one earns by participating in your primary goal, which is the educational process,” Gates said. “I understand where you’re coming from and how it helps kids, but it’s very disheartening to staff when students’ literally are failing four classes but are participating in a school play.”

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