Pasco district seeks to block athlete school switching
LAND O’ LAKES - The Pasco County School Board is developing a student transfer policy aimed at keeping athletes from switching schools to play sports. “It’s a shame we have to institute something like this, but we do,” said Phil Bell, the district’s athletic director. Under the proposed policy, a student who transfers from one high school to another cannot participate in sports for one year. The student could appeal to a committee that would have the authority to make an exception, depending on the specifics of the case. Pasco’s proposed policy comes at a time when a move is afoot in the Legislature to give school districts more responsibility for deciding who is eligible to play sports.House Bill 1279, now in the education appropriations subcommittee, also would strip away some of the authority from the Florida High School Athletic Association. A companion bill in the Senate has similar language, though Bell said the House bill appears the one more likely to pass. “Quite frankly, the bills make me nervous,” Bell said Tuesday at a school board workshop. Bell said he and others worry that a system of free agency could develop if the FHSAA loses its authority to police recruiting violations. “The people who wrote (the bills) have a belief that kids should be able to play wherever, period,” he said. For example, Bell said, if a coach takes a job at a different school and a student athlete transfers to continue playing for the coach, the FHSAA would consider that a violation and declare the student ineligible to play. The legislation says the school district should decide whether the student may play. Board member Steve Luikart, a former assistant principal, said a scenario he encountered involved a mother and father who lived in different school zones. In the fall, the student lived with his father and played football at one school. In the spring, he lived with his mother and played baseball at a different school. “That joint custody deal, sometimes folks can use this to their favor,” Bell said. Pasco’s proposed transfer policy doesn’t specify what exceptions the student athletic participation committee would consider as it makes its ruling. Superintendent Kurt Browning said once the school board sets the policy, his staff would develop the procedures for the committee to follow. “My thought is if that committee and our process focus on what is best for that child as a student, they will make the best decision,” board member Allen Altman said.