When it comes to athletic opportunities, students at Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School face some tough barriers: too few charter school students to field a team of their own, and a host of logistical issues that largely prevent charter would-be athletes from playing for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School teams.
The issue resurfaced this week when high school principal Steve Nixon reiterated his previous decision to turn down a request from a charter student to play for the regional high school girls’ ice hockey team.
At this week’s high school committee meeting, charter school director Robert Moore addressed the committee in hopes of creating a “cooperative agreement” that would apply to future charter school students who want to play sports.
About a year and a half ago, Mr. Moore approached Mr. Nixon with a proposal to form a cooperative agreement between the schools that would allow charter students to play for high school teams, spurred by a charter school freshman who wanted to play ice hockey. Mr. Nixon decided that the high school wasn’t interested in the partnership.
“It’s about this young girl, who a year and a half ago, wanted the opportunity to try out for the girl’s ice hockey team, and she wasn’t able to do it,” Mr. Moore said. “Not your fault, not our fault,” he told the school committee.
“It’s not that simple in our eyes,” Mr. Nixon said at the meeting. “There are liability issues, there are legal issues, there are transportation issues, there are medical issues. I don’t have disciplinary control over students in another school.
“On top of that, any playing time that’s taken away from our students I think would be detrimental for our students,” he said. According to Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) rules, he said, students from another school cannot take playing time away from the host school, and students from another school would have to be the first cuts from teams.
An agreement that would allow a charter school student to play for the high school would have to be endorsed by Mr. Nixon and Mr. Moore, and then approved by the athletic association. While the schools have not sent a petition to the body, Mr. Nixon said he informally talked to the body’s representatives, who said the request would likely be denied.
MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel said agreements between schools do happen, though principals at the host school have to make certain they can meet all the requirements. Chief among them, he said, would be to allow the high school to have complete disciplinary control over the charter school student, including academic discipline.
The student would also have to meet the academic standards of the high school, requiring daily reports from the charter school about the student’s attendance and academic progress.
The MIAA has to be sure the two parties “understand those restrictions and agree to them,” he said.
Even if an agreement is reached, it could still be denied, Mr. Wetzel said, if it does not meet MIAA requirements.
Some charter schools have enough students to field their own teams, Mr. Wetzel said, and in some areas, small schools join together to field a joint team. But the Vineyard’s geography poses further limitations. “You don’t have that opportunity because you’re on an island,” he said.
Home-schooled students are in a different situation, Vineyard schools superintendent James H. Weiss said, because they are enrolled in the same district and entitled by law to play for high school teams.
In an interview with the Gazette, Mr. Moore said he still has hopes that people will “open their minds up to the good aspects of this arrangement.” Challenges “could be easily sorted out...I’m optimistic.”
“I think it’s a good thing that we discuss this in an open manner,” he said, adding that it is “an Island issue” that affects students.
Some high school committee members weighed in on the matter, though the decision ultimately rests with Mr. Nixon, they said.
“I think it’s a tragedy for the student who wants to participate in athletics,” said committee member Roxanne Ackerman. “To deny [athletic opportunities] for one Island student, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I would hope that on a case-by-case basis, when a situation like this comes up in the future that it’ll be considered on its own merits,” said committee member Dan Cabot, who is a former member of the charter school board of trustees. “I would hope that there wouldn’t be a blanket rejection of this idea.”
“I think it’s really our role to advocate for kids,” said committee member Perry Ambulos. “And if there’s anything we can do for an individual child to get them to be able to play and give them every opportunity to do so, provided, of course, that there is room on that team, then we should do so.”
Mr. Moore said that in 12 years, between three and five of his high school students have expressed a desire to play sports.
“That’s enough for me to pursue this battle,” he said.