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Keep a 2.0, or forget the drama club?

Legislators may allow poor students just one after-school activity: study hall.

Published April 20, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Student athletes already know they have to make the grades to play ball: Fall below a 2.0 grade point average and they are off the team.

Today the state Senate will consider legislation to apply the same rules to all extracurricular activities, from band to Latin club and everything in between. A similar bill already has passed the House.

Supporters say the legislation (HB 149 and SB 1034) will encourage students to keep their grades up. "You don't hear anymore about the student athletes flunking out," Rep. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, said.

Opponents say it could penalize students who might drop out of school if not for their after-school programs. The only exception the bill allows is after-school tutoring.

"Extracurricular activities in many people's lives make or break them," said Senate Democratic Leader Les Miller of Tampa. Miller said he wanted an exception for students whose grades slip because of a death in the family or other tragic circumstance.

Baker said he plans to offer an amendment today to let school districts where a majority of students have a 2.0 grade point average or better to opt out entirely.

"The ultimate goal is, we need to have kids prepared" for college or a job after they graduate, Baker said.

If the Senate approves those amendments, the bill returns to the House for final approval.

Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, chairman of the House Education Council, said the standard is not that stringent. "We're not talking about a 4.0 here. They're already scraping the bottom here," Baxley said.

But will it help kids who are struggling? Pasco County assistant superintendent Bob Dorn isn't sure.

Since the early 1990s, before the state requirement kicked in, Pasco has required that students maintain a 2.0 average to participate in after-school sports. Dorn said he backs that rule because sports are so time consuming. But he's not sure about extending the same rule to clubs.

"I think they're important for kids ... Is the club keeping the student in school or not?" Dorn said. "There is a lot of research that says it's the clubs and the involvement in school that helps the student achieve."

The chess club, for instance, might meet only once a month and still give students something to look forward to. "To absolutely include everything might be pushing kids out when we need to be drawing them in," Dorn said. "And most clubs don't have the level of time on a daily or weekly basis that the athletics do."

On the other hand, Randy Koenigsfeld, principal of Ridgewood High School in New Port Richey, said he endorses the concept in the proposed legislation, if for no other reason than it emphasizes academic performance over other activities.

"I think anything that encourages kids to think more about academics and their grades is a good thing," he said.

But it's not a big problem, he said: Kids involved in clubs typically already have higher grades.

"I don't think it's going to be altering too many plans," Koenigsfeld said.

But the bill won't affect any students in Hillsborough County, school officials there said.

"Hillsborough County already institutes grade requirements in order to participate in extracurricular activities," district lobbyist Connie Milito said.

"So this proposed legislation fits with what we're already doing," Milito said.

Times staff writers Rebecca Catalanello and Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

[Last modified April 20, 2005, 02:56:36]

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