Magnet middle school athletes upset over Fayette high school policy

Evan Amend, left, and Mason Dunn are Bryan Station Middle Spanish Immersion students who want to play boy’s soccer for Bryan Station High School, not the high school their homes are assigned to.
Evan Amend, left, and Mason Dunn are Bryan Station Middle Spanish Immersion students who want to play boy’s soccer for Bryan Station High School, not the high school their homes are assigned to.

Last October, Madison Camuel, a student in the Tates Creek Middle School gifted accelerated program, cried as she implored Fayette County Public Schools board members to change a policy preventing her from swimming for Tates Creek High School, located on the same campus as her school.

On Monday, Bryan Station Middle School Spanish Immersion students Evan Amend and Mason Dunn went to a school board meeting, along with several others, to ask board members to change the same policy that Madison Camuel was upset about. Seventh and eighth grade students in Fayette County can “play up,” meaning they can play on high school athletic teams. But middle school students in magnet programs have to play at the high school assigned to their home address, not the high school that their magnet middle school program feeds into.

Families say because of the travel distance between schools, the policy can mean that magnet middle students don’t have time in the afternoon to travel across town to participate in school sports. Other parents say it’s unfair that magnet students have to separate from their classroom peers to play sports.

The policy stood to prevent Evan and Mason from playing boy’s soccer for Bryan Station High School in 2017-18. The boys played for Bryan Station High in 2016-17 and only recently found out that district policy calls for them to play for the new Douglass High School, which is assigned to their home addresses.

“We’ve grown a good relationship with everyone on the team and the coaches and we don’t want to leave,” Mason said. The boys got a temporary answer Monday night.

Fayette board chair Melissa Bacon said at the meeting that board members had heard from several students and parents who were concerned about the policy, which had been in place for some time but had not been enforced or effectively communicated in the past. Bacon said the board will allow Bryan Station Middle students in the Spanish Immersion program to play at Bryan Station High School for the 2017-18 school year only. Bacon said school board members would then determine if the policy needed to be tweaked.

While thankful for the one-year exemption for Bryan Station Spanish Immersion students, some students and parents want the school board to change the policy permanently so that all magnet middle school students can play at high schools that their magnet program feeds into.

“I want it to be permanent so my little brother can play because he plays baseball,” Mason said.

One parent who wants the one-year policy exemption for Bryan Station Middle Spanish Immersion students to be made permanent said education came first in her household, but she also thought that athletics built leadership, sportsmanship, and teamwork skills.

“I’m going to challenge you right now to make the same exception for every magnet program for one year,” Samantha Todd, another Fayette County parent, told board members during the meeting. “These kids are making relationships with their peers, with coaches” in their magnet middle school program, Todd said. “Asking them to go back to their school of residence to play sports outside of their peer group is difficult. So why are we making this harder for them?

“If you are going to be equitable across the board, then you need to accommodate all of the middle school magnet programs because this issue is not unique to Spanish Immersion...There are other middle school magnet options and those students need to be accommodated also.”

Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association that oversees high school sports, said Thursday that district staff has asked him to come address school board members at their Aug. 14 planning meeting. Tackett said Fayette officials had likely been “a little arbitrary” in their previous decisions.

Tackett said board members recognize that the district has been inconsistent in deciding which high school feeder pattern— home address or magnet school location — to follow in allowing magnet middle school students to play up. “They’ve been trying to straighten it out,” Tackett said.

“The school board’s still got work to do,” he said.

Tackett said the school board must define a feeder pattern for magnet middle school students who want to play on high school teams and students have to follow that feeder pattern to remain eligible. “It’s not an individual choice,” he said.

Meanwhile, Madison Camuel, who took her plea to the school board in October, was unsuccessful when she asked board members to let her swim at Tates Creek High School, said her mother Adrielle Camuel. Middle schools don’t have swim teams.

“Despite our efforts, Madison was denied the opportunity to participate in Tates Creek High School athletics,” she said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears