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Tuesday, Jan 22 2013 12:01 AM

Parents plead for charter students to play on same team

Despite the recent explosion of charter school expansion and their accompanying success, there remains one component of charter schooling that falls short. The limitations on charter school student's access to sports.

And while the ink was still drying on the draft memorandum of understanding between Abernathy Collegiate Charter School, and the Tehachapi Unified School District, parents pleaded with the district's board of trustees during last Tuesday's meeting not to deny Abernathy students the opportunity to participate in Tehachapi Unified athletic programs.

One-by-one they made their way to the podium, presenting the importance of sports, pointing out its ability to teach self-discipline and self-confidence while building strong relationships ad a healthy body.

"Not allowing our students to participate will ensure that the district sport's programs will lose all students who come to Abernathy," said Teresa Foley, a founding member of charter school that is slated to open in August of this year. "Those students also lose the experience of participating in sports and no one wins."

While California law does not explicitly address the subject of extra-curricular and interscholastic activities eligibility and access, under the state's statutorily defined "permissive" Education Code these practices are permitted unless specifically prohibited. Because of that, many of the California charter students participate in interscholastic programs available to other public school students, including sports.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, many states including Florida, Hawaii and Nevada have laws that grant charter school students the same opportunity as traditional public schools to participate in sports activities whether it is provided at the charter school or a comparable program at another public school.

Nevertheless, district teachers and coaches say they are concerned about allowing non-district students to take part in school athletics, bringing up issues surrounding academic eligibly tracking, access to students health records, and administrative support for issues concerning discipline.

"It's nice to be able to work within the infrastructure that the district provides," Danielle Evansic, a teacher and robotics coach at Tehachapi High told the board. "When I've had students do things, I can turn that right over to the vice principal at our school. How are these students outside our school going to work inside our discipline structure?"

Another concern raised by board members was if the students of Abernathy would be required to fall under the current federally mandated resolution agreement that in-district students do.

"If a charter student participates in any of the district's programs, it is the district's responsibility to make sure those students meet all of the current requirements of the resolution agreement," said district superintendent Lisa Gilbert.

But since neither school has no control over each other's policies, Foley said that if students were required to participate in the district's Safe and Inclusive Schools Curriculum, it would be left to the district to do so.

However, she assured the board that Abernathy wants to be responsible partners and would take full accountability in paying all of the associated costs for its students to participate in the district's athletic programs.

And while both sides expressed valid and real concerns, one parent put things into perspective.

"We should keep in mind what is best for the students and politics should take a back seat," Tamara Shultz said. "Kids that go to charter schools should have the same opportunities as everyone else. We are not doing something wrong, just something different."

Abernathy housed at sixth grade center

Meanwhile, some parents of in-district students have raised a concern over a plan they say involves housing the Abernathy Charter School at the current Jacobsen Middle School sixth grade center.

Such a move, they said, will take away a setting that allows sixth graders a chance to adjust from the huge transition from fifth grade.

Gilbert confirmed the district is in the process of looking at possible facility options and that Abernathy -- and some of the portables in the sixth grade area -- are one of the options that school officials are considering.

She also said that the district had already discussed moving the sixth grade classrooms to the main campus last year since space was available.

"Nothing is finalized, as we are in the process of gathering input from the staff at JMS," Gilbert said. "We want to consider all of the concerns and issues related to the move before making a final decision, and have plans to also communicate with the parents and ask for their input as well."

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