2013-11-14 / Front Page

Sports Programs Debated

By Theresa Hillman

On Tuesday, Nov. 12 the entire Middletown School Committee stood in silent honor for Forest Avenue School third-grade teacher Kerri Anderson, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Oct 29. Principal Stephen Ponte described the beloved teacher as brilliant. “She was a great communicator and passionate about education," he said. Chair Theresa Spengler called her phenomenal, adding, “Her family is in our hearts and prayers.”

The Committee then addressed issues in the school’s sports programming. This year’s winter athletes have a new safeguard against sports concussions in the form of a cognitive test. Karen Massaro, Middletown High School’s Athletic Director, reported that this resource for the early diagnosis of concussions is available at no cost to the school. Superintendent Rosemary Kraeger said she supports the testing but that there was not enough time to get a policy in place before the start of the winter sports season. She hopes students comply voluntarily. Debate ensued as to the question of requiring all students to take the test, athletes or not, but concerns were voiced as to the district overreaching its scope. No vote was taken.

Parent Geoff Reilly spoke for a group of students dismayed that the school department had denied them the opportunity to fundraise to collect the fees for an indoor track team for six students who would practice with Portsmouth’s high school team. The lack of clear district policy on school sports programs not under the auspices of the department delayed action.

Kraeger asked the School Committee if it wanted to increase the sports programming and followed, “How can these programs funded by outside sources be sustainable?” She described a history of creating small sports clubs which were later abandoned and posited, “Do these types of requests provide equity as we reduce academic programming and supports?” Most of the subsequent debate focused on whether sponsorship/fundraising is a form of “pay to play,” currently against policy in Rhode Island.

MHS Principal Gail Abromitis read from the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s regulations which describe their rules of team creation. Spengler praised the students’ self-advocacy and urged patience as they reviewed issues of liability and the department’s responsibilities. The issue will be revisited later this month.

Kraeger said that the schools are at a crossroads, where a shift from past practices means today that schools are not allowed to seek corporate sponsorship and “angel” investors. She pointed out that the issue’s complexity must be clarified in terms of the actual fees, the definition of a coach, and the impact on union contracts, as well as the expectations and responsibilities for the school department. She said she cannot act “until I get a ruling if it’s pay to play.”

Shannon Hugard, an MHS senior said, “Our goal is to run. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to put the program in place properly and legally.”

Other topics at the three-hour meeting included the long-term facilities plan, the highly anticipated January arrival of lunar rocks at Gaudet School’s planetarium, and the successful snow removal bid by All Island Landscaping.

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