School board unmoved by travel ban task force, public testimony

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School student Connor Norman, his mother Michelle Norman, and school budget committee member Jennifer Lindley all testified during Tuesday night's school board meeting urging the board to reconsider the ban on middle school sports travel. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School student Connor Norman, his mother Michelle Norman, and school budget committee member Jennifer Lindley all testified during Tuesday night’s school board meeting urging the board to reconsider the ban on middle school sports travel. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Juneau School Board will not reconsider the ban on middle school sports travel, at least for the rest of the school year.

Floyd Dryden Middle School teacher Jeannette Sleppy is a member of the community task force created to come up with alternatives to the travel ban. Sleppy was one of several who spoke out in unanimous opposition of the ban during Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting at Juneau-Douglas High School.

“Our superintendent was quoted recently stating, ‘Building trust comes down to doing what the community is asking you to do through the elected board and following through with that.’ I urge you, the board, to build trust with us, this community, and continue to allow our middle school athletes the opportunities that competitive travel offers and has offered the middle school students of this community for many years.”

The school board adopted the middle school sports travel ban last September. It takes effect in July.

Sleppy said the task force conducted an online survey and received 263 responses. Only 9 percent of those responses support the ban on middle school sports travel she said.

In its final report, the task force recommends permitting out-of-town travel under certain conditions. These include making travel available to all team members and limiting each team to only one trip per school year.

Tom Rutecki is a member of the school district’s Activities Advisory Committee. He says the group did not put forward a recommendation to the task force, “but we do agree that travel should be allowed for middle school activities and athletics.”

Rutecki says before any policy on travel is developed, the board needs to establish a philosophy on middle school sports. He says the Activities Advisory Committee has started working on one.

“We basically are trying to get away from a competitive philosophy of teams that win to a developmental approach. We want to recommend establishing grade level teams. Go away from the skill-based teams and divide them into teams where fundamental, social and physical skills are developed.”

Following public testimony in favor of permitting middle school travel and the presentation by the task force, school board President Sally Saddler asked the body if they wanted to reconsider the ban:

“Can I get a show of hands of board members who want to see this on the agenda next month?”

When no hands went up, the packed audience broke out in a murmur.

School board member Barbara Thurston said the task force’s recommendations didn’t bring the board any closer to resolving the issues and the board wasn’t ready to reconsider the ban.

“The conclusion I get from this is that the ideal situation at the middle schools is that it involve both an intramural and a competitive component. And we have one school that has a competitive program but not an intramural program, and one that has intramurals and not competitive. And if the proposal and the resources allowed for both at both schools, I think that’s where we could go, but it really sounds like we have to choose, that neither school can afford to do both,” Thurston said.

Juneau resident Jon Kurland led the task force. He said the school board’s reaction is disappointing.

“I feel bad for Juneau kids who are in elementary school or middle school who aren’t going to have those opportunities in the future,” Kurland said. 

While Kurland didn’t get the outcome he was hoping for, he says the group will likely not pursue the issue.

“I don’t think so. I think this committee has done its work,” he said. 

Saddler said the school board will not look into the middle school travel ban again this school year unless the Activities Advisory Committee comes forward with a philosophy.

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