Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) director Bob Moore has begun a campaign urging a public debate aimed at reversing principal Steve Nixon's denial of a request for a Charter School student to play on a Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) sports team.
Mr. Moore was on the MVRHS school committee's agenda to discuss the issue at a meeting on Monday, January 9. Charter School trustees members Linda Hughes, Connie McHugh, and Buck Reidy accompanied him.
As Mr. Moore explained, about 18 months ago, an 11th-grade Charter School student asked if she could try out for the girls' hockey team at the regional high school. He said that usually charter schools have to field their own teams, but since MVPCS has only 40 high school students, that is not possible.
Seeking a solution, Mr. Moore said he and Charter School assistant director Claudia Ewing met with Mr. Nixon to discuss the possibility of the two schools forming a cooperative, under the auspices of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), to which MVRHS belongs. Mr. Moore said MIAA uses the term "cooperative" to describe an arrangement between school districts that allows a smaller school to participate in a larger school's athletics program.
"A situation does not exist like that in Massachusetts, to be frank with you," Mr. Moore said. "And there aren't many charter schools that have only 40 students, and no others that are located on an Island."
During the discussion 18 months ago, Mr. Moore said Mr. Nixon mentioned a number of reasons why a cooperative arrangement would be difficult and why he was not in favor of the idea.
"My board asked me to come in and see if we could expand the conversation on a larger community level," Mr. Moore told the school committee. He assured them it would be unlikely that a large number of Charter School students would want to participate in MVRHS athletics.
"I would like our community to entertain a discussion about whether, if there is a student at the Charter School that would like to participate in sports, the high school would consider having that person on a team," Mr. Moore said. "I would like the opportunity to engage in a conversation so that down the road, if another such situation arises, we would have a mechanism in place to allow a student in our high school, whose parents also pay taxes for this high school, to be able to try out for a team."
Easier said than done
"Steve, I know you informed him you were not interested; anything to add?" MVRHS school committee chairman Priscilla Sylvia asked Mr. Nixon.
"I understand Bob is here advocating for the kids in his building, as I try my best to advocate for our kids here," Mr. Nixon said. "But it's not that simple in our eyes. There are liability issues, legal issues, transportation issues, medical issues; I don't have disciplinary control over students from another school; those being just part of the reasons it didn't appear to work for us. On top of that, any playing time taken from our students would be detrimental to them."
Mr. Nixon said he and athletic director Mark McCarthy spoke with an MIAA representative who said that if the high school petitioned for a cooperative arrangement with the Charter School, it would be denied.
"It is our understanding that it wouldn't work for us, it would possibly cause difficulties for our students, and because of the guidelines and discussion we've had with MIAA, it would not be supported here," Mr. Nixon said.
In comments from Charter School board members, Ms. McHugh noted that home-schooled students who do not attend classes at MVRHS do participate on its sports teams.
"You have a precedent set, of a child not enrolled in the school but living on the Island and benefiting from the high school's athletic program," she said. "I hope the door will be left open."
Superintendent of schools James Weiss explained that the situation with home-schooled students is different. Although they do not attend the high school, they are home-schooled with the permission of the school committee. Technically, the home-schooled students are enrolled in the high school, counted in its foundation enrollment, and covered by its regulations, so by law they are entitled to attend its classes and participate in its activities, if they choose, Mr. Weiss said.
In discussion by the school committee, several members expressed sympathy for the Charter School's situation. However, while they agreed they were not opposed to keeping the door open to the possibility of Charter School students participating on high school teams in the future, they also stood by Mr. Nixon's decision.
"I think it's a real tragedy for a student that really wants to participate in athletics not to be able to," Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah said.
Dan Cabot of West Tisbury said although he is sympathetic to the Charter School, as a former member of its board of trustees for six years, "I told Steve I think this is strictly his call and not the school committee's business to interfere in this matter."
Despite the issues that would need to be resolved, Mr. Cabot added, "I would hope that there wouldn't be a blanket rejection of the idea, but that as each case comes up, the kid would be given a fair hearing."
"As coach of a competitive travel soccer team, I certainly understand where Steve is coming from in regard to kids from other schools wanting to play for us," Perry Ambulos of Chilmark said. "But if there is anything we can do for an individual child and give them an opportunity to play, provided there is room on that team, then we should do so."
"If something came up in future, and there was a spot, we'd take it as it comes," David Rossi of Edgartown said. "At the same time, in this situation, it could be your daughter that didn't make the team because of that. It wouldn't be fair. We have to take care of people in our building first, so I don't see it happening for a while."
Ms. Ackerman asked whether someone should make a motion regarding the issue.
"We're not going to vote on it," Ms. Sylvia said. "By discussing it, we illustrated that we've considered it. It's not in our prerogative. That is Steve's role. But we did have a community here to listen."
In a phone conversation with The Times on Tuesday, Mr. Moore said the timing of Monday's discussion was not precipitated by any new requests this year from Charter School students seeking participation on MVRHS teams.
Mr. Moore said he revisited the issue after he attended an MIAA workshop last July and became better versed in its regulations. In August, he wrote a letter to MIAA asking about the Charter School's situation and sent copies to Mr. Nixon and Mr. Weiss.
"Steve must have gotten a phone call from MIAA, which he mentioned briefly last night, and said he wrote a letter to MIAA stating he would not accept the Charter School as a cooperative partner," Mr. Moore said. "I brought all this to our board of trustees and they asked me to see if it would be worthwhile to go in front of the school committee. We think it's an Island-wide conversation that should be had, not just between me and Steve Nixon. I emailed Dr. Weiss asking if it would be possible, and he put me on the agenda for last night.
"At the end of the day, I think it's a civil rights issue, that all students should have the right to participate in all activities available to all in the community," Mr. Moore added. "Over time, I think we'll find this whole discussion is probably not that significant, when we get beyond the obstacles."
In the regional high school's FY2013 budget, athletic program costs included $98,050 for athletics and intramurals, $118,250 for the athletic director's and trainer's salaries, $172,00 for athletic coaching stipends, and $36,846 for ice time at MV Arena.