NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - The Board of Education approved two amended athletic policies on July 3, expanding the length of time students can be excused from physical education classes in lieu of other activities and adding a Title IX contact to the website.
Historically, the district has allowed for students who are involved in physical activities outside of school to be excused from gym class in school, but the new policy expands the excusal from one marking period to two-and-a-half marking periods.
Under the new “alternative physical education” policy, this option will only be available for juniors and seniors during the second and third marking periods, and the first half of the fourth.
The policy was passed 6-1 with Trustee Andy Pelosi casting the lone dissenting vote. According to Board President Andrew Brown, Pelosi had argued that the excusal policy should also apply to sophomores.
Pelosi did not return calls for comment.
To be excused from gym class, qualifying students must have earned a grade of 85 or better during the previous marking period or must have taken part in a school sport prior to the excusal.
Approvals of excusals are only valid for one school year and do not carry over to the next year. The requests for excusals are vetted by the district’s athletic director and the high school principal.
The reason for this policy is so students can pursue “serious involvement” in an athletic opportunity outside of the school. To comply, students must keep a daily log of attendance in the outside activity.
“There were some parents who believe it should be for all four marking periods,” Brown said, but the district doesn’t have the ability to vet outside athletic programs over the summer to allow excusal from the first marking period.
Also, Brown said, keeping part of the fourth marking period mandatory is a safety net for students who may have had something go awry with their outside activity.
“There would be time to make it up and you could graduate,” Brown said.
Changes to the amended “interscholastic athletics policy,” approved unanimously by the school board, included a section addressing Title IX compliance.
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.
The board’s previous policy did not include any Title IX provision.
Under the amended directive, the district will periodically review the boys and girls sports programs for things like quality of equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice times, opportunity for advance competition, maintenance and quality of locker rooms and facilities, and support for the programs.
Additionally, the district added the name of its Title IX compliance officer, Adam Van Der Stuyf, to the policy under advisement from its legal counsel.
Over the past several months, students and parents in the district pressed the board to review how it treats boys and girls teams after a group of female athletes complained about inequalities in playing fields, locker rooms and access to uniforms.
On June 26, the board said its legal counsel conducted a review of its athletics in accordance with Title IX standards and that the district is in compliance with Title IX mandates.
Students were unhappy with the results and are pressing the board not to drop the issue.
In a phone call after the meeting, Brown said the board will be looking at ways gender plays a role in the athletics culture at the high school, but that those things don’t fall under Title IX.
Carol Hughes, one of the parents admonishing the board to make changes, said including a Title IX section in the athletic policy is “a step in the right direction.”
The review of the athletic policy is part of a bigger ongoing project to review all board policies on a rotating basis. The athletic policy was last amended in 2015.
Earlier in the year, Athletic Director Henry Sassone held a town hall style forum to hear from parents about issues with the athletic program. Parents balked at a provision where a student who misses a certain number of games and practices would be unable to play in a game until they’ve made up the same number of practices.
The new policy doesn’t directly address this concern, but acknowledges that athletics may conflict with family events and other commitments. On this, this policy reads, “Learning to make life choices is one of the benefits of interscholastic athletics and is consistent with our mission to question, define and solve problems through critical and creative thinking.”