LAND O’ LAKES — The Pasco County School District plans to modify procedures for carrying out its transfer policy for high school athletes, but no changes are planned for the policy itself.
Board Vice Chairman Steve Luikart, the policy’s biggest critic, isn’t satisfied with that. He says the policy is hurting students and needs to be changed.
“Every day we don’t address this issue, students suffer,” Luikart said Tuesday. “Students are paying a price for something we are doing that I don’t think this policy was designed to do. The process is not only subjective, it’s inconsistent.”
The school board put the policy in place last school year. In essence, students who transfer from one high school to another must sit out a year before playing sports, although they can appeal to a district committee and make the case that the transfer was for reasons unrelated to sports. District officials say about 95 percent of transfer students get favorable rulings from the committee.
The policy was developed to keep students from shopping for schools based on sports. It also helps winnow out possible recruiting violations that could lead to game forfeitures and fines from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The school board discussed the policy both at its morning meeting Tuesday and at a board workshop afterward. Superintendent Kurt Browning acknowledged that procedures needed improving and said changes are already in the works.
Among those changes: The committee that approves participation will elect a chairman among its members, rather than having district athletics supervisor Phil Bell chair the meetings. The committee will follow Roberts Rules of Order and a district equity officer is being added to the committee.
A consent agenda will be added so the committee can approve clear-cut cases without parents and students appearing before the committee.
For Luikart, those changes don’t go far enough. He proposed policy changes that would define transfer students so that students who move over the summer aren’t considered transfers when they attend their zoned school.
“There’s a reason we originally decided to have a policy,” Luikart said. “It was to keep students from going to school A for football, school B for basketball and school C for baseball.
“But when a student starts the school year in their zone and we deny them, it’s criminal to me.”
Earlier at the regular board meeting, Luikart tried again to get the board to consider suspending the policy until it can be reworked. Board Chairwoman Alison Crumbley favored at least letting Luikart share the information to make his case, but other board members declined to consider Luikart’s proposal, just as they did when he brought it up Aug. 19.
They said they were hesitant to make a policy decision without giving notice to the public and holding a public hearing.
“I think it’s a dangerous precedent for this board to consider suspending or re-evaluating a policy in a forum like this, regardless of what it is or regardless of what the information is,” board member Allen Altman said. “I would suggest we not go down that road.”
Pasco is one of about 15 to 18 of Florida’s 67 school districts that have policies governing sports transfers, said Roger Dearing, executive director of the FHSAA.
“Your policy is a model policy for the state,” Dearing told the board. “We have had three districts this year who have asked for a copy of your policy. It is very tight and it has held up to court scrutiny.”
The board also heard again from Charlotte Jones, whose two sons were denied sports participation at Ridgewood High. She said she did nothing wrong, and neither did her sons. They had been living with their father, but this summer returned to live with her and her home is within the Ridgewood High zone. They are upset they can’t play sports, she said.
“I have to listen to them at night and ask you all for help and nobody is listening and nobody is helping,” Jones said.