Wake leaders wrestle with issue of where early college students play sports – News & Observer

A Wake County school board committee recommended Tuesday not offering interscholastic sports for students at a new high school opening this year. The panel said more time is needed before action can be taken about sports at eight existing specialized schools.

The school board’s policy committee is considering a staff recommendation to stop allowing students from five high schools and three middle schools that don’t have interscholastic sports to play on teams at other nearby schools. The change has pitted families at the small schools who want to keep the athletic eligibility against families at the schools who don’t want to take in these student-athletes.

“I don’t think we have the information to make a decision,” said school board member Lindsay Mahaffey.

But the committee did agree with staff’s recommendation to not make interscholastic sports an option for students at the new North Wake College and Career Academy scheduled to open in Wake Forest in August. Students will be able to graduate with a diploma and job training in specialized areas such as culinary arts and early childhood education.

Administrators said students who applied to the new academy were told they wouldn’t be offered interscholastic sports. But administrators said they need the board to sign off on the issue as well.

The school board will need to waive its existing athletics policy to not give sports as an option to the new academy. School leaders said Wake can revisit the issue if it turns out that not offering sports eligibility hurt recruitment efforts.

“It’s always easier to add something back than to take it away,” said Drew Cook, senior director of high school programs.

Wake has five early college high schools that partner with colleges or universities to provide students the chance to graduate with as much as two years of college credit. The early colleges don’t have athletics programs but are filled only by students who applied. The North Wake academy will be Wake’s sixth early college.

Wake has three small middle schools that don’t offer interscholastic sports. Some students apply to those schools, but others are assigned there.

For at least the past several years, students at the eight existing small schools have been allowed to try out for sports teams at nearby designated schools.

Some parents at Broughton High and at Daniels Middle schools have complained about taking in students from the other schools.

The policy committee had initially backed removing interscholastic sports for the eight schools on Dec. 13. But the proposal was referred back to the committee for further review after families from the early colleges spoke out against the proposal at a Dec. 20 school board meeting.

Existing students at the eight schools would be grandfathered in from any changes, but parents have said it would be unfair to future students.

School board member Jim Martin said families and staff at the early colleges have told him how they want to keep the sports option. He also said principals at the leadership academies are worried that losing sports could hurt recruitment efforts.

“From teachers, I’ve heard that athletics are a critical part of education,” Martin said.

School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner said she’s now hearing from some Broughton families who welcome the early college students. School board member Bill Fletcher said he’s heard a similar response from some families at Enloe High School.

“There is a pull and a tug depending on what the situation is at the different high schools,” Fletcher said.

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