Fayette County magnet middle school students should not get to choose where they play high school sports, Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett told school board members this week.
In Kentucky, seventh and eighth grade students can “play up,” meaning they can play on high school athletic teams. But some Fayette school families have recently been upset when told that middle school students in magnet programs have to play at the high schools assigned to their home address, not the high school that their magnet program feeds into. Fayette board members are trying to decide whether to change the policy.
Tackett did not tell board members which way to go, but said they had to choose one feeder pattern or the other and not give students the option to choose. He said setting guidelines would prevent high schools from fighting with one another for athletes.
Tackett told the board: “You just have to pick a pattern.”
Under KHSAA rules, student-athletes play at the high schools that their home address is assigned to, but local school boards can grant an exemption for the middle school students.
Parents say the home address policy can mean that magnet middle students don’t have time in the afternoon to travel across town to participate in school sports.
Fayette board chair Melissa Bacon said at a board meeting in July that the home address policy had been in place for some time but had not been enforced or effectively communicated.
“Athletics is a privilege, not a right, so you are well within any authority to set those guidelines,” Tackett told school board members. “You get into a situation where everybody wants to be the one exception. You’ve handled it differently in the past. Our concern is not the past. Our concern is what you do going forward.”
“You already know that with the opening of a new high school, the other five feel disadvantaged by the program that’s on that very campus and the athletic magnet that it could become,” Tackett said.
Tackett was referring to Carter G. Woodson Academy, an all-male 6th- through 12th-grade program, located on the same campus with the new Frederick Douglass High School.
Students in the Bryan Station Middle Spanish Immersion program were playing at Bryan Station High School until district officials told them about the home address policy. In response to the opposition from those students and their families, Bacon said in July that 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.
But that leaves the broader question of what happens after the school year and what policy the board will use for other magnet middle school students. Parent Heidi Carman, who attended Monday’s school board meeting, said she hopes the exception for the Bryan Station Spanish Immersion middle school students is made permanent. Since the district’s Spanish Immersion program at the middle and high school level is limited to the Bryan Station schools, she said Bryan Station High feels like her son’s “home” school.
After Monday’s school board meeting, Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk said other parents say they want their magnet middle school child to play athletics at the high school assigned to their home address.
“You can’t accommodate both,” Caulk told the Herald-Leader. “The question is what path do you want to take?”
Varying viewpoints from district officials were evident at Monday’s meeting. School board member Stephanie Spires said she was concerned about magnet middle school students having to travel across town to the high school assigned to a student’s home address and thought it could keep some students from participating. District Athletic Director Robbie Sayre said that in terms of maintaining the integrity of athletics in Fayette County, having students play at the high schools assigned to their home address “is much cleaner, clearer” than other alternatives.
People in the community have been sending emails to Caulk and board members with questions and opinions on both sides. To help make a decision, board members have asked for data on how many magnet middle school students are playing on high school teams, Caulk said.
Caulk said the board could have further discussions or even take a final vote at the regular school board meeting on Aug. 28 or at the next board planning meeting on Sept. 11.