Evans High School hopes to hit a home run when it submits a new isolation rule to the Georgia High School Association.
It struck out the last time. On Nov. 5, the association's executive committee voted 33-13 against adding an isolation policy to its constitution, which means Evans will remain in Class AAAAA during the 2002-03 school year and will be forced to travel to the Atlanta area to compete with Region 7-AAAAA schools.
Dales Sickles, president of the Evans athletic boosters, came before the Columbia County Board of Education on Tuesday and vowed to continue the fight, and the board voted unanimously to lend its financial and emotional support in a second bid to establish an isolation rule.
The school board authorized its legal council to write a new isolation policy and to call a special meeting of the athletic association, which requires $3,000 to $4,000 in travel expenses for its 50 members.
A school must have a population higher than 1,492 to be put in AAAAA Class. The following are the current enrollment numbers for the four county high schools:
"If we have to pay the cost to have a special meeting to bring them back to the table, then so be it. I don't think a temporary fix is what we want," trustee Lee Muns said.
School board attorneys will also study whether the association's decision was discriminatory.
The executive committee's veto of the isolation policy came on the heals of a 39-6 positive vote by its reclassification committee, which favored the isolation rule. Evans went into the Nov. 5 meeting almost assured of victory.
Had isolation passed, Evans would have asked to drop one classification and join Region 3-AAAA, which includes Richmond and Columbia County high schools, as well as Statesboro and Burke County high schools.
Sickles told the board that the proposal failed because it was not specific enough in outlining the distance from other schools or the size difference.
The boosters hope to bring the following proposal before the association's special meeting:
"Schools eligible for isolation/hardship status must be more than 100 miles average from their region competitors. No school can exceed the upper size limit of the classification they would join by more than 15 percent. Schools meeting both criteria would be automatically moved by the reclassification committee to the closest region/classification which meets both criteria."
School Superintendent Tommy Price said of the policy proposal: "With the politics involved, I don't know that it would have mattered, but the issue seems to be how do we close this door once we open it? This seems to be a pretty tight door where very few could qualify."
Evans was reclassified as AAAAA for 2000-01, and with no other local programs in that classification, Evans joined Region 4-AAAAA, which consists of suburban Atlanta schools.
That forced Evans athletic teams to travel an average of 320.6 miles to away games, and travel expenditures increased from $6,000 to $54,000. The schedule also has forced Evans' student athletes to miss classes and return home late.
"We are trying to remain positive about it," Evans Principal Don Brigdon told the board. "We do have a groundswell of support, and we feel like we need to push this, not only for Evans High School, but for other schools in similar situations."
Board trustees also agreed to solicit the support of State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, though the state board has no direct power over the association.
"If somebody recognized the problem and the burden placed on our students, then they might be willing to do something about it," Price said. "It might be our best shot yet. Though the Georgia High School Association is independent of the state board, they have pursued policies in the past, such as 'No Pass, No Play."'
Board Chairman Roxanne Whitaker agreed that Evans needs all the support it can get.
"Even though she (Schrenko) claims to have no jurisdiction, she can offer her expertise in pointing out how detrimental it is for students to miss class," Whitaker said.
The Evans High boosters also asked the board to consider rezoning Columbia County's high schools to lower the number of students at Evans so it could fit back into the AAAA class. The cutoff for student population for AAAA is 1,492 students. Evans has 1,642.
With an enrollment of 1,512, Lakeside High School faces reclassification into AAAAA next year.
"We believe that the (board of education) needs to evaluate building projects with the goal of having three, if not all, the Columbia County high schools of equal size before the GHSA does its next round of region determinations beginning Spring 2003," Sickles wrote in a statement he prepared for the meeting.
"If you cannot achieve this balance, then it will be time for one of the other Columbia County schools to take their turn at travel."
Wayne Bridges said he would like to look at that possibility before next year.
"If there were a way to get that number below 1,492 next year," he said. "If we are willing to show that we are making a good faith effort and fell in there legally somehow."
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