Kids First?

OSAA ruling goes beyond athletics

"We'll try to make the best of it," is the stoic stance of Jerry Sessions, Hood River County Schools Superintendent, following this week's upholding of the Oregon School Activities Association's decision to put the high school in a new athletic conference.

Because it goes so far beyond athletics themselves, it's an unfortunate ruling by the state-appointed Hearings Officer. Sessions, who said he was "discouraged" by the recommendation, should be encouraged to make one more effort to contest it. The district has doggedly pursued overturning the OSAA ruling -- with the attitude of "putting kids first" -- and Sessions' planned letter to the Department of Education would be a correct formal follow-through to the Hearings Officer opinion. The letter might change someone's mind and result in a reprieve to keep the district in the Mount Hood Conference.

Hearings Officer Michael Reed issued his recommendation March 20 (details on page A1) that the State Board of Education deny the school district's appeal of a December 2001 ruling by OSAA that HRVHS be shifted out of the Mount Hood Conference and into the Intermountain.

In terms of the law, the ruling is understandable, but what's troubling is this: not just once but three times Reed acknowledges the chief reason the IMC shift is a bad idea: the negative impact on students' grades.

"Many Hood River families cannot afford any additional expenses," Reed writes. "Many Hood River students have part-time jobs to help support their family. The move will force some to drop out of interscholastic activities and will cause others to have to quit their jobs. For those who continue to participate in interscholastic activites, the move will cause them to lose more class time, which could negatively affect their grades."

Reed continued, "parents are concerned with safety issues related to long-distance travel, and with the inability of many parents to attend games in distant cities to support their children, as well as with the likely negative impact on their children's grades caused by missing more class time."

Reed also states that "the appellant (Hood River schools) points to no statute that directs the State Board of Education let alone a voluntary association, administering interscholastic activities, to `put kids first' in all of its decisions. Regardless, the fact is that any redistricting decision is likely to have a positive impact on some schools and their students, and a corresponding negative impact on other schools and their students. That is the case here."

Reed must have had an inkling of the ramifications of his ruling; he refers to "children," for that is what young learners must be thought of, as well as "students."

No directing statute saying the system must put kids first?

Perhaps not in a strict legal sense. But putting kids first is the mission of this district and the state system of education, or at least it should be. The OSAA ruling goes one more step to underlining the harmful, yet prevailing, notion that athletics are somehow a separate, entitled wing to the scholastic house, rather than a room on equal footing with academics.

And putting kids first is the correct spirit that many parents are going to take in choosing to reduce, if not eliminate, their kids' participation in athletics. And then the kids lose.

Reed, as an attorney, made the ruling by looking at the letter of the law.

But the letter of the law, and the long-range impacts of the decision to put HRV in the Intermountain, should have compelled him to take a broader perspective, and consider student academics. Perhaps a high school science or English teacher should have checked his work before he turned in his assignment.

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