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Eligibility changes ahead for middle school athletes

Change in school policy is designed to give kids a chance to improve failing grades

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 10:32 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 10:41 a.m. CDT
(David Dolmage/Daily News)
Berg Middle School Athletics Director Steph Langstraat addresses the Newton Community School District board during their regular meeting on Monday night. Langstraat presented a proposal to change the way student grades are checked for extracurricular activities.

A new policy approved at Monday night’s regular school board meeting will change the way that administrators at Berg Middle School check to see if students meet academic eligibility requirements for extracurricular activities. The change would move the regular checks from a weekly check to a monthly check was approved, with board member Cody Muhs as the lone dissenting vote.

Previously, Steph Langstraat, the athletics director at Berg, has reviewed grades for all students in extracurricular activities every week, and if a student was receiving a failing grade, they’d be suspended for the following week. Checking grades weekly is a lengthy process, however, and Langstraat’s proposal would simplify the process. Negative feedback from parents about the current plan was also a factor in the change Langstraat said.

Under the new plan, student grades would be checked at the midpoint of the quarter, which is Sept. 26. If they are failing a class they’ll become ineligible for two weeks, and they’ll be required to attend two study hall sessions after school with Langstraat before they can return to practice. When the first quarter at Berg ends on Oct. 25, Langstraat will check the grades again. In practice, Langstraat will effectively be checking the grades on a monthly basis instead of a weekly basis.

Muhs said he understands Langstraat’s perspective, and it’s easy to support an idea that would simplify things at the middle school, but he doesn’t think it holds students to a high enough standard. Under the current model students who are failing a class aren’t allowed to play, whereas the new system has enough lag time between the grade checks and implementation that students with failing grades would still be on the field.

“My personal opinion is that there has to be a balance, I just didn’t feel like this would hold students accountable,” Muhs said.

Langstraat disagreed with Muhs, she pointed out that if you look at the schedule for football, a student with a failing grade would miss two games, but they’d still have an opportunity to turn their grade around and get back on the field before the end of the season. Middle school sports also typically have a shorter season Langstraat said, which was a factor in her decision-making, she wanted to make sure that kids didn’t miss an entire season if they had an unsatisfactory grade check.

“Every student would be held accountable,” Langstraat said.

While Muhs and Langstraat couldn’t see eye to eye on the timeline for grade checks, Muhs did praise Langstraat’s plan to require students to attend two study hall sessions before returning to practice after failing a grade check. By creating the mandatory after-school study hall sessions Langstraat hopes she can help kids track down why they’re falling short in the classroom and get them back on the road to success. Making sure kids have the support they need was enough to get Muhs’ support as well.”

“I’m glad to see that support being added, we don’t just turn our backs on a student who’s not doing well,” Muhs said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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