Not sure how widespread the abuse of this was but it would no longer be an option for those who use it. Let's hope this goes through. I apologize for the length but I could not get the link to post.
Senate tightens no-pass, no-play
Legislature: Bill would limit exemptions to honors, AP core classes
01:59 AM CDT on Friday, April 27, 2007
By TERRENCE STUTZ and KAREN AYRES / The Dallas Morning News
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Widespread abuse of exemptions to the state's no-pass, no-play rule – allowing large numbers of students with bad grades to sidestep the requirement – would be sharply curtailed under a bill unanimously approved by the Senate on Thursday.
The measure would close a loophole in the law that gives school districts wide latitude in deciding what courses can be exempted from the 22-year-old rule that requires students to earn at least a 70 in every subject to participate in extracurricular events, including athletic contests.
The legislation, now headed to the House, would limit exceptions to honors and advanced placement classes in core subject areas, such as math and English. That means no more exemptions for such classes as jewelry making, photography, professional baking, choir and theater production.
"This will make these exemptions uniform across the state and get us away from the gaming of the system we've been seeing where fairly easy courses are being called honors classes," said Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, author of the bill, citing the practice of some districts to label ordinary courses as "honors" so they don't count against the no-pass, no-play rule.
Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she and other lawmakers were surprised to learn that school districts could "pick and choose" the classes they wanted to exempt from the requirement.
Ms. Shapiro said there has been no opposition to tightening the rule because it is clear the Legislature never intended to let districts create so many exceptions.
"Some districts didn't do it. But others did, and the question some are asking is, 'How did they get away with it for so long?' " she said.
Dallas-area coaches said Thursday that they support the Senate's vote to restrict exemptions because it would set up an even playing field among schools. As it stands now, schools exempt vastly different courses.
The Dallas Morning News reported in January that while some districts exempted no classes from the rule, others exempt more than 100.
Joey Florence, head football coach at Denton's Ryan High School, said Thursday that he was shocked to learn that schools exempt cooking and other elective courses.
"I've been doing this for 18 years and I didn't know people were doing that," Mr. Florence said.
The exemptions have only helped his players a few times in recent years, primarily in AP calculus and AP chemistry, he said.
"It's good to get everyone on the same playing field," he said. "I'm big on local control, but at the same time, no-pass, no-play is a statewide law so there needs to be some structure. If people are taking advantage of it, that's hurting kids."
Coaches generally agree that exemptions are needed to encourage students to take tough classes without fear of getting kicked off their teams.
"Exemptions are a good thing to have, but I do think it could be abused," said Coppell football coach Mike Fuller. In Coppell, students are allowed only one exemption per semester.
When the law was passed as part of a massive school reform law in 1984, lawmakers authorized school principals to exempt students in honors and advanced placement courses.
Ten years later, when the rule was revised, the Legislature opened the loophole that gave school districts wide latitude in deciding what courses could be exempted. That led to a proliferation of exemptions for classes that were outside the core curriculum.
Records obtained by The News revealed a system in which no one at the state level had the power to grant or deny exemptions. The University Interscholastic League, which regulates sports and other extracurriculars in Texas public schools, simply filed the exemptions away.
Mr. Janek said it is "hard to argue" that the Legislature ever intended to exempt so many classes from the rule. The Austin school district, for example, exempts 166 courses, including auto repair, cooking and hospitality.
Under his bill, only honors and advanced placement classes in core subjects could be exempted from the no-pass, no-play rule. Those subjects include English, math, science, social studies and foreign languages. Dual-credit courses also could be exempted.
The legislation also directs the Texas Education Agency to annually review all courses that are eligible for exemption from no-pass, no-play.
House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said he supports the Senate measure, which is expected to be assigned to his committee.
"The original purpose of the rule was if you don't pass, you can't play – even though it was decided to exempt advanced placement courses from the rule. The problem is there has been a liberal interpretation of what constitutes an exempt course," he said.
Russell Lacock, 18, a senior at Allen High School, also said the exemptions should be the same at every school.
"If some key player was exempt at one school and another key player at another school wasn't exempt, that is really not fair to the team," said Mr. Lacock, who played offensive tackle for the school's football team.
Mr. Lacock said many of the players on his team took Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, but they didn't struggle with their grades. He believes exemptions should be limited to core academic subjects.
Justin Padron, 18, a senior at Carroll High School who played football, said the state should not allow any exemptions at all. The Southlake district allows none – not even for AP classes.
"It's a special group of people who can pass their classes and play sports," Mr. Padron said. "If you can't pass the class, you shouldn't be in it in the first place. High school sports are a big deal, but passing your classes is going to get you further."
Many Dallas-area school districts exempt dozens of fine arts courses, ranging from orchestra to jewelry making. Districts would not be allowed to exempt those classes under the approved legislation.
In Allen, for example, the exemption list primarily includes core classes, but it also includes several art classes.
Tim Carroll, the district's spokesman, said the district will be watching to see if the legislation is signed into law. "We're going to have to do a better job this fall of educating the students about what qualifies and what does not qualify under no-pass, no-play," he said.
D.W. Rutledge, executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, said the Senate's decision to restrict exemptions supports the spirit of the law.
"If this cleans it up, it would be a good thing," he said.
Under the current requirement, students getting less than a 70 in any nonexempted class are barred from extracurricular competition for at least three weeks, although they may practice during the athletics period. After three weeks, the student may return to competition if the grade has climbed above 70.
In the decade before the rule was changed in 1995, students were automatically barred from practice and play for six weeks – the typical length of a grading period – if they got less than a 70 in any subject.