School board approves extra probation

COSTA MESA — Student-athletes who sometimes sit out a season for failing to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average or pass at least four classes will now be granted multiple probation periods during their four years of high school.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved the new policy that enables failing students to have what Mike Zimmerman, the athletic director at Newport Harbor High School, called a "second chance" to play.

The decision should allow Newport-Mesa high schools to compete more equally in athletics against other Orange County school districts, educators argued.

According to athletic directors, who took a year to draft the policy, nearly 50% of the Newport-Mesa student body competes in a variety of sports, but often some students are forced to "sit out" entire seasons because of the district's one-strike-and-you're-out guidelines.

Just before the vote, board member Michael Collier also asked the athletic directors whether they were doing anything specifically to help improve the grades of students who were on the verge of failing, saying that it was an important issue to be addressed if the new policy were to allow for more probationary periods.

Athletic directors said coaches are required to file weekly reports on those students who are struggling in the classroom.

A number of parents and coaches hailed the new policy after the meeting, saying that it will allow Corona del Mar, Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools to compete against other districts whose students are failing but are still allowed to play.

"This gives us an equal playing field," said Costa Mesa High football coach Wally Grant.

As an example of why student athletes should be given more chances to play ball, Grant pointed to his stepson, Matt McCoy, an outside linebacker in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks, who may well not have "gone pro" had it not been for the leniency of Tustin High School's policy on probation.

Matt's mom, Tammy McCoy, echoed Grant's thoughts, saying her son was, at times, saddled with learning disabilities during his high school years and never would have been able to play had he been subjected to a tighter academic regimen and procedure.

"It can ruin a kid's chances to play professionally," she said.

According to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), students must maintain a GPA of 2.0, a low-C, and are required to pass four of their normal workload of six or seven classes.

Districts statewide are allowed to set the number of probation periods allowed while the student works to improve his or her grades.

In a related matter, the school board said that a dispute between a coach and player should be between them, without parental involvement.

If a situation between the coach and the player isn't resolved, however, then the parent can enter the picture.

Collier and school board member Martha Fluor said they thought the new protocol for what athletic directors called "conflict resolution" was a positive step because it would help reign in "overzealous parents" who sometimes get carried away by the games and the roles their sons or daughters play in them.

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