Beginning in fall 2012, Beaufort County School District students who do not maintain a 2.0 grade-point average will not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities such as athletics, drama, band or chorus.
The Board of Education approved the measure, which affects students in grades seven through 12, by a 6-4 vote Friday after more than an hour and a half of heated discussion. The vote came on Day 2 of the board's retreat.
Board member Laura Bush, who made the motion, said she knows there will be "heartburn" over the rule.
"I've already gotten the comments from parents who think I'm crazy, who are probably going to run me out of Bluffton," she said. "But I'm here to advocate for children and their educations."
The S.C. High School League already sets academic standards for its member schools, which include all public high schools in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
To participate, students must pass four or five classes, depending on the semester. The league does not have a GPA requirement nor does it specify that core subjects must be passed.
For instance, a student failing algebra, biology and English can still be eligible if he earns D grades in five other courses, such as physical education or Web design. An athlete with those grades -- and a GPA of roughly 1.0 -- can still take the field.
Data presented at the board meeting demonstrate the concern isn't merely theoretical.
Last year the district had 1,832 student athletes in its Battery Creek, Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head high schools. Only 15 became ineligible under current rules.
But 233 athletes -- 13 percent -- had GPAs under 2.0.
Some schools and sports fare worse than others.
Boy's basketball players at Beaufort High, for example, had an average GPA of 2.25 last year, the figures show.
Twenty of the school's 35 players didn't make the 2.0 cutoff.
Board member Earl Campbell called the league's standards "ridiculous."
Campbell told the stories of several talented athletes who went to college unprepared and didn't make it.
"One of them is working at McDonald's today," he said. "And that's a shame. That's a crying shame."
COACHES WEIGH IN
A committee will work out how the rule will be implemented, but Friday's vote makes several things clear.
The requirement will take effect for the 2012-13 school year and will be based on the previous semester's GPA, not cumulative GPA. Thus, a student whose semester grades fall short of the C-average next June will be disqualified from activities for the fall 2012 semester.
Hilton Head High football coach Tim Singleton said Friday it sounds like a "quality policy."
"Our kids have to do a better job academically -- period," he said. "Athletics are important, but it boils down to getting kids to college. This is a start."
Beaufort High football coach Mark Clifford expressed concern that ineligible players might simply give up.
"We can't lose these kids," he said. "A lot of these kids, it's all they got. And football and extracurricular sports is what keeps them going and what keeps them working hard and helps the coaches keep an eye on them."
However, Clifford said he will try to motivate his players to make the grade -- beginning next week.
"We're probably going to come out and say, 'If this was in effect right now, you wouldn't be playing, you wouldn't be playing, you wouldn't be playing and you wouldn't be playing,' " Clifford said as he pretended to point to athletes. "Hopefully, it will be a positive thing."
Several principals offered opinions before the vote.
Beaufort High principal Dan Durbin said some students come to his school reading two grade-levels below normal. Others must juggle school with caring for younger siblings and often struggle just to make it through the doors each day.
"The world I live in at Beaufort High -- and some other schools -- isn't the world that you're talking about," he said.
Board member Bill Evans expressed similar concerns.
"We didn't teach you how to read, we didn't teach you how to write, we didn't teach you how to compute, so you don't get to be part of the high-school experience?" he said.
Sandra Jensen, assistant principal at Hilton Head High, argued that in addition to a GPA cutoff, students should be required to pass core classes like English and math, "because they can still fail those two subjects and possibly still have a 2.0, and then we're not setting them up for proper graduation requirements."
Board member Steven Morello argued the rule should be put in place for the upcoming school year.
"This is postponement -- it's kicking it down the road," he said.
Other members said immediate implementation would be unfair to students who are already in practice and can't do anything now to boost last semester's grades.
Four board members -- Morello, Ronald Speaks, Herbert Burnes and Michael Rivers -- voted "no." Board member Wayne Carbiener was absent.
Staff writers Stephen Fastenau and Sam McDowell contributed to this report.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.