LEWISTON — For the fourth time since its adoption two years ago, Lewiston High School’s controversial athletic eligibility  policy came under school committee review Monday. And for the fourth time, no changes were made.

The Lewiston School Committee did not take action on the policy after a sometimes heated discussion. Coaches, teachers and administrators spoke on behalf of the policy, saying it is very easy for students and coaches to understand and puts the impetus on students to achieve academically.

One coach, a parent and school committee member John Butler spoke against the policy, saying it was too tilted towards punishment and unfair towards black and English Language Learner (ELL) students.

The current policy requires athletes, as well as students in other extracurricular activities such as debate and drama, to maintain an average of 70 or better in six courses (five for freshmen).  Supporters said the policy that preceded it was too lax and had too many loopholes.

Lewiston High School principal Gus LeBlanc said since it was enacted in the fall of 2007, the policy has had the intended consequences..

“The past three years, the graduation rate has increased all three years,” LeBlanc said. “The number of students ineligible has decreased significantly over the last three years. The number of course failures for student-athletes has decreased significantly. The percentage of student-athletes on track for graduation has increased by 23 percent. That’s one of the ones that I’m most proud of.”

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Butler said a disproportionate number of the students who become ineligible under the policy are minorities. Last winter, 21 percent of black and ELL athletes were ineligible, compared to 6.8 percent of white athletes. Last spring, 14 of 38 black and ELL athletes were ineligible.

Other detractors of the policy said it doesn’t give students enough of a chance to bring their grade up.

“I think the policy is too punitive,” said girls’ varsity track coach Kevin Russell.

Russell and John Thibeault, father of a former track athlete,  took issue with the mid-season eligibility checks. Students that do not meet the eligibility requirements at that point are ineligible for the rest of the season.

“You’re not giving kids an opportunity to make good, because there are underlying principles out there why a kid might be failing a class,” Russell said.

Thibeault, who said his son was kicked off the track team with three weeks left in the season because he had a 69 in a class at the check point, said it is unfair for a student who was passing a class at the check point but ended up failing it at the end of the quarter to remain eligible for the entire season.

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“It’s your contention that this policy reduces or eliminates the many loopholes that are in the system,” Thibeault said. “Can you imagine a bigger loophole than one that would allow a student that didn’t fail a course to be off the team and one that did to play in a state championship game.”

Soccer and basketball coach Mike McGraw said the policy keeps everyone on the same page.

“What I found with the present policy is our kids know the parameters and know they have to find a way to be successful,” he said.

This is the fourth time the committee has reviewed the eligibility rules, according to committee chairman Thomas Shannon, who called it “the proverbial thorn in the lion’s paw.” 

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