OPS may be moving closer to requiring minimum 2.0 GPA for student athletes - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:25 pm
OPS may be moving closer to requiring minimum 2.0 GPA for student athletes
The Nebraska School Activities Association requires students to have passed four classes the previous semester to participate in varsity extracurricular activities. Incoming freshmen are automatically eligible.

Bellevue, Elkhorn, Lincoln, Millard, Omaha, Papillion-La Vista, Springfield Platteview and Westside all follow NSAA guidelines.

Some districts, however, require more of students.

» Bennington: Students are ineligible if one grade drops below 65 percent or two grades slip below 70 percent. The district checks grades every six weeks. Students have one week to become eligible. In Bennington, 69 percent is a failing grade.

» Council Bluffs: Students must pass all their classes. At the end of any grading period, if a student gets an F, the student is ineligible to compete for 30 consecutive calendar days.

» Douglas County West: Students who are failing two classes at one time must sit out school activities for a week or until they improve their grades.

» Gretna: Students are required to do their work and pass their tests. If they don't, they must come in before or after school until they get it right, said Kevin Riley, Gretna superintendent.

» Ralston: Students must be passing all classes to compete athletically at any level of play, not just varsity.

Sources: District officials and district policies

The Omaha Public Schools could be moving closer to a policy that would bench student-athletes who fail to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average.

The requirement would be more stringent than the state standard — a standard that several school officials called exceedingly lax.

The school board president, Justin Wayne, asked district administrators to draft a policy requiring a minimum 2.0 GPA — a C average — for consideration at the board's Nov. 18 meeting.

“Let's bring it before the board, and they can vote it up or down,” Wayne said.

The policy, if adopted, would be phased in over three years.

Led by Wayne, the school board has been grappling with the idea of setting a GPA requirement for eight months. At Monday's board meeting, Wayne said OPS has the opportunity to become a trailblazer in Nebraska by pushing for tougher academic standards. Student-athletes make up one-quarter of OPS's high school population.

“I see OPS leading that charge here,” Wayne said.

OPS follows the Nebraska School Activities Association's eligibility guidelines, which require students to pass four classes to participate in sports. Under those standards, a student could get four D's and three F's and still be eligible to play. Most states and school districts require students to pass at least five classes.

“We need to be striving for excellence,” board member Yolanda Williams said. “There are kids playing championship-­level games that can't read, or can't pass, or can't go on to college.”

If approved by the board, Wayne proposes a three-year, gradual implementation that will give parents and students time to acclimate to the new standard.

The district currently requires all freshman athletes to attend a weekly one-hour academic coaching session after school — similar to a study hall — a practice now in its sixth year.

For the first time this year, OPS extended districtwide a North High pilot program targeting upperclassmen who are failing two or more classes or have a GPA below 2.0. Those students in 10th, 11th or 12th grades must attend academic coaching with their teammates once a week, whether or not their sport is in season. The program costs about $160,000 per year and is covered by a grant.

“At North High, they had a lot of success,” said OPS athletic director Bob Danenhauer. “They did have kids who would skip, but they'd pull them back in. They were told, 'You'll do this or you'll be sitting games.' ”

Board member Lou Ann Goding said she heard push-back from some parents about the freshman program — should their kid have to go if they're pulling straight A's and B's?

“If that student is doing well, requiring them to be there doesn't make sense,” she said.

Academic coaches do monitor quarterly grades, and students can earn a reprieve if it's clear that they're having no trouble, Danenhauer said.

Preliminary OPS data suggest that the extra attention might be working. The GPAs of the 129 North High students who participated in the study table program increased slightly from 2011-12 to 2012-13. Students who attended the most study sessions saw the biggest GPA gains and had fewer suspensions compared with the previous year.

Wayne proposes keeping that study system in place this year. Under his three-year plan, the academic sessions would continue next year and athletes would only be able to fail one class and still play.

By 2015-16, one flunked class would disqualify a student from sports. Final implementation would occur the following year, when the 2.0 minimum GPA would be mandatory.

“I would like it to be shorter, but in reality, you can't go from no policy to a new policy without hurting kids,” Wayne said.

Board members requested, and received, a trove of data Monday related to the effectiveness of the district's coaching sessions, how many kids would be ineligible under a 2.0 GPA standard and comparisons of grade policies in other districts.

More than 2,800 high schoolers participated in at least one sport in the 2011-12 school year. Of those students, roughly 16 percent had a GPA below 2.0.

Two analyses by The World-Herald and the district show that a switch to a 2.0 requirement would disproportionately affect black and low-income athletes. The World-Herald also found that more than half of the Northwest High football team would have sat last year, while a quarter of Benson's athletes would be ineligible.

OPS research also showed how hard it is for a student to recover from a bad first semester. Eighty-six percent of students who had a low first-semester GPA were unable to raise their grades above a 2.0 by their junior year, though athletes were more likely than non-athletes to boost their grades.

Other schools that have implemented GPA policies include Kansas City and Scottsdale, Ariz., which requires all students involved in extracurriculars to maintain a 2.0.

Other districts like Baltimore have found that stricter policies can be a double-edged sword. At one Baltimore school, an entire sports team had to sit out the season because so many athletes were ineligible. The district felt some students were also shying away from taking honors and Advanced Placement courses out of fear their GPAs would drop.

In debating the 2.0 requirement, several OPS school board members said they believed that the current standards were too easy but feared alienating students whose main motivation for going to school was playing a sport.

“Students who are engaged are more likely to be successful,” board member Marian Fey said. “It's the carrot, not the stick.”

Others worried that OPS students would simply switch to other nearby districts with less-rigorous standards.

“It would be a much better situation if the whole state was looking at it,” Superintendent Mark Evans said. “Then you're not worrying about young people exercising choice, where they think we can get around this rule because they can go to the school across the street or half a mile away because they don't have that requirement.”

An earlier version of this story said an incorrect number of high schoolers participated in at least one sport in the 2011-12 school year, the correct number of students is more than 2,800.

Contact the writer: Erin Duffy

erin.duffy@owh.com    |   402-444-1210

Erin covers education, primarily Omaha Public Schools.

City Council OKs redevelopment plan for north downtown project
Inmate accused of partially tearing off another's testicles charged with assault
Police question suspected burglar; 12-year-old was home alone
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
Lawyer: Man had right to hand out religious fliers outside Pinnacle Bank Arena
Firefighters put out duplex blaze in N.W. Omaha
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
Coffee with a Cop set for Thursday in Benson
In TV ad, Shane Osborn says Ben Sasse 'beholden to Washington'
Douglas County offices accepting credit, debit cards
Teen killed in shooting at Benson's Gallagher Park
Ben Sasse raises more money than U.S. Senate foes Shane Osborn and Sid Dinsdale
Parched Omaha soil soaks up record precipitation
Engineering student harnesses girl power, starts engineering-science club at Gomez Elementary
WB Dodge Street lane closed
Ex-Omaha Mayor Hal Daub endorses Shane Osborn for U.S. Senate seat
New Doane College program promises free tuition for first class
No more last-minute hiring of Omaha Public Schools teachers
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Lunar eclipse was visible in the Omaha area
2 arrested in west Omaha hotel TV thefts
You can tape a cable TV access show at new city-built studio in Omaha
Nancy's Almanac, April 15, 2014: Where did snow, rain fall?
Bellevue man gets 25 years in Mills County sex abuse case
< >
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Breaking Brad: Next year, Bo Pelini brings a mountain lion to the spring game
Before the spring game, Bo Pelini carried a cat onto the field. With Bo's personality, it'd have been more appropriate for him to carry a mountain lion.
Breaking Brad: Bo Pelini's cat lets spring game intro go to its head
Coach Bo Pelini took the field before the spring game holding a cat aloft. Typical cat. He was undoubtedly thinking, “Sixty thousand people, all cheering for me!”
Kelly: 3 former Nebraskans all take seats at the table of international diplomacy
Three former residents of the Cornhusker State are working together at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and one took part in a recent high-level meeting about Ukraine.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
$25 for a $50 gift card to use at Schweser's!
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »