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Decatur to GHSA: Schedule playoff games around testing

If the Georgia High School Association is committed to student athletes, it must look at playoff scheduling that forces teens to choose between sports and academics.

The issue came to the forefront this week when Decatur High School's soccer team learned Tuesday night it would face East Hall High for the AAA championship title in Macon Thursday at 2:30 p.m., meaning five seniors would miss an IB exam. Most chose to skip the exam for the game, which Decatur won.

But should students have been forced to make that choice?

Writing in Vox, DHS soccer player and junior Baylen Altizer said:

It’s ridiculous that the Georgia High School Association scheduled the game during such an important test, but even without this test the game is in the middle of the day. In the middle of the week. If our friends and family want to support us, they have to risk skipping school or work. While some parents are taking time off of work, others aren’t in a position where they can simply ask for time off a few days before and get out of a whole day of work.

It feels like the Georgia High School Association has failed us, the students, in multiple ways. They made it hard for certain players and supporters to be able to attend the biggest game of the year, which my teammates and I have been working toward since preseason workouts started last August.

There are some simple and obvious solutions, such as not scheduling important games during school hours. IB an AP are two of the biggest providers of tests that colleges look at to determine college credit out of high school, and it would not have been hard for the Georgia High School Association to check the test dates and make sure there were no conflicts for players.

More Georgia schools are adopting the International Baccalaureate program, which entails a challenging curriculum, 7:30 a.m. seminars and a college-level research paper – all culminating in an IB diploma. There are now 29 IB high schools in Georgia. (It's a difficult designation to earn due to the training required, and authorization can take two to three years.)

The AJC heard from coaches of other springs sports about increasing conflicts with AP and IB exams. At least, AP allows a makeup of its exam; IB does not except for “a circumstance of extreme nature that threatens the safety of candidates and/or teachers (for example civil unrest, natural disaster).” The internet abounds with students lamenting they couldn't win reprieves for missing IB exams despite car accidents or the flu.

The Decatur players were not in danger of failing to earn a high school diploma, only the IB diploma. Besides the prestige, what does the IB diploma provide students?

Consider what DHS goalie Theo Davis did. He stayed behind Thursday at Decatur High to take an hour of the 2.5 hour IB exam. He traveled by car to Macon, arriving to applause as he sprinted onto the field to join the game already underway.

Why subject himself to so much stress?

Here is what Theo told the AJC:  “I’m going to Emory. If I get the [IB] diploma, I get 24 college credits, almost a whole year. If I don’t get it, I only get six credits. I only took half the test, but I believe I’ll have the required average in history to get my diploma.”

Decatur Superintendent David Dude is unhappy about what his students faced and sent this letter to Gary Phillips, executive director of the Georgia High School Association. More school leaders ought to speak up about this scheduling issue that affects all spring sports and all IB schools.

Dear Mr. Phillips,

The City Schools of Decatur is extremely proud of the performance of our boys’ soccer team. These student-athletes have worked hard for many years to achieve such a high honor. They have contributed similar dedicated effort to their academic work, most notably as part of our International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

On Thursday, they were scheduled to take an IB exam; the culminating activity of two years of intense coursework. They were also scheduled to compete in the state championship game. Unfortunately, those two events were scheduled in such a way as to preclude the students from participating in both.

Immediately after finding out the boys were assigned to a 2:30 pm game time in Macon, DHS staff took action to try to address this situation. They worked with the IB program and determined the maximum flexibility they could offer was to begin the exam 30 minutes early. In order to do this, all students taking that exam had to begin earlier. Other staff worked with GHSA to attempt to identify solutions regarding the game time. They were told that the only option was to find two schools willing to swap times with them, along with the agreement of the opposing team. Not surprisingly, the other schools were not willing to switch times, likely for the same reasons facing our district.

Five of these student-athletes were placed in an untenable situation. Three of them chose to forego the IB test in order to make it to Macon in time for the game, and one chose to take a portion of the exam in order to obtain partial credit, allowing him to arrive at the game just moments before it started. The fifth student received permission for a course revision not requiring a test.

What is most frustrating about this situation is that it was entirely avoidable. It is difficult to comprehend how GHSA came to the decision to schedule championship games during the school day during the busiest assessment window of the school year. Offering the games on evenings and/or weekends would have not only allowed these students to partake in both the academic and athletic achievements they had earned, but it would also have allowed peers and parents greater opportunity to support the team. I respectfully request that GHSA review the processes that led to this decision and revise accordingly; placing student interests as the primary criteria in decision making.

Sincerely, Dr. David Dude Superintendent

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.