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Monday, Jun 09 2014 07:23 PM

Abernathy Charter School asks students be allowed to play sports

Several students of Abernathy Collegiate Charter School and their principal, Shyanne Ledford, made passionate pleas to the Tehachapi Unified School District Board of Trustees at its May 27 meeting, asking the board to allow the charter school's athletes to participate in athletic programs of the district at Jacobsen Middle School and Tehachapi High School.

"It's a big deal for all the right reasons. We are asking that the school board treat every student the same," said Brian Stainfield, an Abernathy parent. "Bring the community together, and focus on the kids. I believe the board should vote to allow charter students to participate in area sports. To not do so would be unfair."

Severals students took to the podium next, pleading with the board.

"If your child was not getting the attention that he needed, would you take them to some other school," Tad Dill, a 9th grader at Abernathy and former student of Jacobsen Middle School asked the board.

Dill stated he was, at first, very unhappy with his parents' decision to transfer him to Abernathy, but has come to find it was done in his best interest.

"My grades went from three Fs at JMS to an A-B average at Abernathy," he said.

Although Dill is now taking academics more seriously, he said he has always been serious about athletics, and still retains his inner drive to play sports.

"Now I'm in another bind," Dill said. "I'm unable to play football at Abernathy. I feel that there are a lot of life lessons to be learned in sports as well."

"I've been playing softball for about seven years," said Erin Askins, an 8th grader at Abernathy. "In a small community like Tehachapi, there are not too many areas in which you can make new friends. Including sports at Abernathy would change that."

"When we first wrote our charter for the district, it was approved for our students to participate in extracurricular activities... which includes sports," Abernathy Principal Shyanne Ledford later said. "At the time the board essentially said that they didn't know if the school would even make it a year. This was in March 2013. It's now a year later, and we are going strong."

Abernathy is a site-based charter school that initially opened in August 2013 for grades 6 through 9. By 2016, the charter school plans to serve grades 6 through 12, with it's first class of 12th grade seniors to graduate in 2017.

"Under Proposition 39, the district is required to provide us our fair share of equipment, space and opportunity," said Ledford. "If our students should meet the TUSD requirements, whether it be paying fees or whatever it is, we ask that our students be allowed to play sports with their peers."

Speaking in opposition of the subject during the school board meeting was Kristi Cowee, an 8th grade teacher at Jacobsen Middle School.

"I don't think we should allow them to join in JMS activities or sports teams," said Cowee. "We are JMS and they are Abernathy. JMS has limited spots for our own students, and we shouldn't turn them away to allow Abernathy students to play on our teams instead. It would be criminal to our students. Please don't cut our students short by giving away spots on our teams to students of other schools."

Ledford later said that what people don't understand is that if the district doesn't allow Abernathy students to participate in TUSD sports, than many of her students who are driven to play sports will be forced to transfer back to their old schools so they can do so.

"Either way," said Ledford, "the students are going to take those spots."

Trustee Carrie Austin read an email TUSD received by Abernathy founder Teresa Foley, which was written in March 2013, in which she requested that the charter school students be completely separate from TUSD students.

"What they don't understand was that our founder wrote that email after her own students were threatened on a school bus, and she had real concerns that if our kids were identified, that they would run the risk of being hurt," Ledford said.

She added that she felt that an inappropriate parallel was made between her students and those of the continuation high school who have alternative education programs.

"Those students have lost their privileges to participate in activities, whereas Abernathy students have done nothing wrong," said Ledford. "We are not an alternative program. If anything, we have a more rigorous program. Our students are required to meet the same standards as set by the state as TUSD students."

TUSD has allotted Abernathy more space for the upcoming Fall semester, which Ledford says is a testament to the charter school's success. Now that a year has passed, the principal says Abernathy has excelled in it's efforts, and has brought the district board evidence to substantiate their request to be included in area sports.

"We came back with facts, with information, and are willing to work together to gather the knowledge that we will need so that a relationship can be built," said Ledford. "If the board says no, then our plan is to reach out to every local sport opportunity that exists and bring them here to recruit on our campus. Otherwise, we would like to consider working with other charter schools to create our own inter-collegiate teams that can compete locally."

The board decided to place the matter on the agenda of the next TUSD regular board meeting, to be held Tuesday, June 10.

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