The district is looking into the possibility of writing a policy concerning students who would like to represent the school in a sport that is not already offered.
Board of education member Daniel Petrozelli said at the July 24 board of education meeting that there are athletes who want to participate in diving, bowling and fencing—but those sports are not already offered at the school, and students cannot participate in competitions without school sanctions.
“Do we want to consider offering those sports, or writing a policy to have a person pay his or her own way while we will represent them?” he asked. “It has come up because students can’t get into certain activities without school representation.”
Bridgewater parent Karie Coe said she is the one who requested a diving program for her daughter. She said there is no dive team in the state of New Jersey, and there is one event in the state with very high qualifying scores needed to participate.
“All I am asking for is for my daughter to be allowed to go to the state event, and she needs someone who works with the district,” she said.
Coe said she is not looking for the district to offer an entire dive team, just to have someone accompany her daughter to the meet.
“You have to have a qualifying score to go to the competition, and at most it’s two meets,” she said. “You’re not going to have a problem with 40 kids [wanting to be on the team] because there aren’t going to be that many qualifying.”
“It’s not really a team sport,” she added.
But for the members of the board, they were also concerned about setting a precedent in terms of allowing for one sport and not others.
Board member Lynne Hurley said this reminds her of a situation with the team, which formed on its own and requested to be represented by the school.
“We decided that the only way we could fairly do that was to pay a stipend and have actual tryouts among the students,” she said. “I don’t know that I see any difference between athletics and clubs such as that.”
Hurley said there is also the question of insurance coverage if something were to happen to the student at any competition.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder said the district’s attorney and insurance representative have indicated this is not a liability.
“Our attorney has said this is not a legal issue, it is a policy issue,” he said. “The board can choose to develop a policy that would cover situations like this.”
“If the board developed the policy, they would appoint a coach, and the board is then covered under liability by appointing someone to accompany the child to the competition,” he added.
And Schilder said that parents who have asked about diving and other sports have said they would be happy to cover the expenses of sending a faculty member to the competition.
Board member Jeffrey Brookner said he is concerned that this is more of a philosophical issue concerning limiting the number of students who can participate in the sports that are not officially offered by the district.
“Just because there’s one parent who approaches us and wants his child to have an opportunity to represent the school at a state meet, I think we can’t do that unless we announce publicly that there will be diving representation and tryouts,” he said. “I would not support writing a policy.”
Schilder said he also wonders whether there would always be a faculty member willing to serve as a representative for these other sports.
Several board members said they would like to know what kinds of polices other districts have written about the same sort of circumstances, but Schilder said there are no other policies written.
Hurley said she thinks this possible policy and plan would be unfair to students who don’t have money.
“I would sooner support adding the sport to the budget and adding tryouts and the $100 activity fee,” she said. “But we have kids who can’t even afford that, and we have to waive it. So to say someone will be represented in any sport, everyone should have the opportunity to try.”
“Maybe we can afford to add those sports,” she added. “But to send a couple people under our name where others are excluded, I don’t feel comfortable as the representative.”
Brookner said that although he might support adding the sports to the budget, he is concerned about the teacher contracts, and whether the possibility for these sports can be included or a stipend will be sufficient.
“And you can’t say that you represent the district as, for example, the official diver because you have enough money to pay for the stipend,” he said. “That’s fundamentally wrong.”
The board determined that it needs more information about whether a policy would be sufficient or if it should go another route before agreeing to any kind of representation.
Brookner said he believes it comes down to two factors.
“I think the right way to handle this is through two channels, the athletic department looking at what it can do, and adding the issue to negotiations,” he said.