Miss. backs away from school takeovers sports cuts

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi officials are backing away from automatically limiting high school sports and extracurricular activities when the state takes over a school district.

The state Board of Education on Thursday discussed making the limits optional when they remove accreditation from a school. A change has also been proposed so that when accreditation is revoked, the limits won’t kick in until after the completion of the then-current school year as well as another year.

The board will vote on the changes Friday.

Since 2012, the policy has required that schools be limited to only half a season as soon as accreditation is revoked, which happens automatically when the state takes over a district and installs a conservator to run it. District games are allowed, but not playoffs.

Cheerleading, dance squads, speech and debate, chorus and band can participate in district or state contests, but can’t get ratings. 

The move comes after Gov. Phil Bryant declined last week to let the state Department of Education take over the Scott County school district. That refusal was motivated in part because of limits on sports and other activities.

The Scott County Central girls’ basketball team is the defending 2A state champion. It’s led by Victoria Vivians, Mississippi’s all-time leading scorer in girls’ high school basketball.

The 4,200-student district was an unusual candidate for a takeover because of its B-rating. Most takeover districts are in deep academic or financial distress. But the board recommended the takeover after finding the superintendent was violating state rules.

“We said when we met a couple of weeks ago that we never thought it would apply to high-performing districts,” state Board of Education Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth said after Thursday’s meeting.

When board members adopted the policy in 2012, they had intended limits on sports to motivate community intervention in troubled schools. The agreement for shortened seasons was actually a compromise. Originally, the board had proposed an outright ban, but agreed to two years of shortened seasons before a ban would take effect.

“We adopted the policy trying to make the community get more involved,” Gann said. But he said that doesn’t appear to be what has happened in the three districts where the penalties have been applied - Oktibbeha County, Leflore County and Yazoo City.

The board put Yazoo City on a strict monitoring agreement instead of taking it over, but still revoked accreditation. That meant the Yazoo City football team, after going 9-1, didn’t get to go to the playoffs.

Yazoo City superintendent Arthur Cartledge said that 24 students have transferred since the district lost accreditation. He said at least nine of those are athletes, who have mainly transferred to the private Manchester Academy in Yazoo City and the adjoining Yazoo County school district.

“The community did not rally behind us as we thought they would have,” he said.

In the Leflore County district, where Amanda Elzy High School had won two straight 4A boys basketball titles, two players including the coach’s son transferred.

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