Pinelands Reconsidering Policy That Bars Home-Schooled Kids From Playing Sports

Board Looking to Cut District Funding of School Based Youth Services
Sep 13, 2017

The Pinelands Regional Board of Education is reconsidering its policy of not allowing home-schooled students who live within the district’s boundaries to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities.

Patricia Chambers, who represents Little Egg Harbor Township and chairs the board’s Policy Committee, reported that her committee had explored the issue, discovering, for example, that Barnegat High School allows such students to play sports, etc.

However, she told the full board at its Monday evening working session, the committee is concerned about home-schooled students being able to meet the district’s attendance requirements. Pinelands athletes, she said, have to put in at least half a day of school to participate in practices and games.

“The committee is concerned that oversight wouldn’t take place,” she said.

Then, Chambers said, there was the matter of academic eligibility, especially in terms of core classes.

“We have no control over what they’re doing,” she said.

“Academically, there’s a big concern,” agreed Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks. “We really don’t have a way to evaluate.”

A third concern was that home-schooled students aren’t required to take state standardized tests.

Finally, there was a question about student ID numbers. Home-schooled students don’t have one, but all Pinelands students do because such a number is made necessary by the district’s drug and alcohol testing policy, in which students are chosen for testing by random when their numbers are drawn.

“I think we could assign them a number,” said Karen Poklikuha, who represents Eagleswood Township.

The discussion then centered on just what a change in policy would allow a home-schooled student to do at Pinelands. Could they go to proms? Could they join class trips?

Board attorney Amy Houch said any revised policy would have to make it clear it applied only to athletics and other extracurricular activities such as school musicals.

The board decided to have Banks contact other schools to see how they have handled similar situations.

Another issue that was discussed at length was the Pinelands School Based Youth Services program.

Karen Kenney, the director of the program, had reported that a member of her staff had resigned. Aware that the board was attempting to cut the cost of the program, she suggested that the position not be filled but that its duties would be spread among the rest of her staff. She also suggested that the SBYS staff would receive additional pay in the amounts of $1,000 to $2,000 for picking up the extra work. The move would still save the district approximately $30,000 in salary and benefits.

Kenney will learn a lesson – be careful what you wish for.

The board is concerned that the district’s share of the payment for the SBYS program, which provides individual and family counseling, health services, learning support, employment counseling and recreational opportunities to hundreds of kids, has risen dramatically. When Pinelands joined the cooperative effort between the New Jersey Department of Children and Families Division of Prevention & Community Partnerships and school districts throughout the state, the district paid 25 percent of the bills while New Jersey paid the tab for the other 75 percent. Now the Pinelands Regional School District’s share is 48 percent.

The board wanted all of the savings that would result from the employee’s resignation.

“We have to somehow cut back from 48 percent towards the original 25 percent,” said board President and Little Egg Harbor Township representative Susan Ernst.

Members were also concerned that acceding to Kenney’s request would spawn resentment from some of the district’s other employees. “We already asked an administrator to take on extra work and we gave her nothing,” said Ernst.

Banks suggested the board ask Kenney to appear at a meeting to plead her case. But the board agreed they didn’t need to hear from her, deciding on the spot to say no to her request.

It wasn’t the only time the board said no at its Monday evening meeting.

When Charles “Chuck” Miller, the beloved theater teacher and director of the high school’s highly-received plays and musicals resigned at the end of the 2016-2017 year to take a higher paying job in North Jersey, board members took turns praising him. One had even suggested naming the high school auditorium after Miller.

But on Monday Thomas Williams, who represents Bass River Township, said the district’s policy addressed “memorializing,” in other words, naming a building or part of a building after someone.

“Memorializing has to be for somebody who has passed,” said Williams.

The board brought up the fact that the gymnasium was named after a teacher who had passed away. On the other hand one of the district’s libraries was named after a retiree.

Betti Anne McVey, who represents Little Egg Harbor, liked the idea of forming a committee to explore the issue further.

 But Ernst wanted a more immediate approach.

“I guess I couldn’t support naming anything for someone who left the district,” she said.

There was some hemming and hawing. And then Banks talked about her exit interview with Miller.

“This individual was very uncomplimentary to this body,” she said, going on to say he felt the board “paid more attention” to wrestling than the theater department’s costume needs and that he even advised her not to listen to certain board members. She called his exit interview “very unprofessional.”

That quickly ended the conversation. The auditorium will definitely not be named after him.

— Rick Mellerup


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