Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — With the change of a state law restricting athletics involvement for open enrollment students, Iowa schools are left to make their own policies.
The Washington school board made its stance on the subject clear at a regular meeting last week, during discussion on two students who requested the waiver, an upperclassman and a freshman.
“The state has put in the option for both schools waiving ineligibility for varsity sports. Last year there was an automatic 90-day non-eligibility,” Superintendent Willie Stone said. “Highland has already waived for the two students that we have.”
Stone said the freshman in question was an unusual but potentially common case for the district.
“Any freshman who enters into high school, if they haven’t played any high school sports, automatically has it waived,” Stone said. “This freshman played in freshman baseball games because we bring our eighth-graders up. Since he’s played in high school, this is one that we would have to waive.”
The board’s decision: waive ineligibility for incoming and outgoing freshman baseball players but keep it for all older students in a bid to prevent athletically motivated school transfers.
“The other student, who is an older student, I personally don’t believe we should waive,” Stone said. “I personally think open enrollment is meant to get your student to where you want your kids to be academically. School is about academics, not about athletics, in my mind … I think we need to be very clear that any student that isn’t just starting their freshman year is declined.”
Stone defended the decision to waive their restrictions for baseball-playing freshman, saying their early involvement in high school athletics was already encouraged by the district.
“We don’t force our kids, but most of our eighth grade kids play up on our freshman team,” he said. “We’re trying to accelerate them into it, so I don’t feel that we can hold that against our students. Because if we didn’t do that, and they come in at the beginning of the year, they can automatically play.”
Stone said open-enrolled students without waivers could still compete in sports, with the 90-day bar applying only to varsity programs.
“My biggest worry is we could have kids be in three different districts in one year if everyone waives varsity sports,” he said. “It doesn’t take away sports all the way. It just says, ‘You’re not going to be involved with varsity sports at the other school,’ you can still be involved in JV. I definitely don’t believe in taking away all opportunities because I think that’s a bad thing also, but I do think it’s important for us to set the tone.”
Stone said that once the school year started, the district should stop waivers for all students, as they would have already competed in high school sports.
While the policy is unofficial, Stone said the decision on Wednesday would set a precedent.
“We’re talking about it as a standard policy, but we’re going to have to address everyone individually anyway,” he said. “If they call, I can tell them ‘Hey, this is kind of our standard policy, but we’ll take it to the board,’ because we’ll have to act on every one individually.”
Stone said he was unsure about whether the policy should apply to competitive programs outside of athletics, such as the speech team, but planned to check the former state law and update the school board accordingly.