Students at Salem High School can fail one or two courses in a quarter and still play sports. By next fall, however, that could change.
The bar for Salem High student-athletes may be going up.
"We're doing kids a disservice if we're letting them fail one or two classes and still allow them to play a sport," said Mayor Kim Driscoll, who chairs the School Committee. "There's got to be a way we can put the student first in 'student-athlete.'"
Under pressure from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to raise standards and improve scores in the statewide MCAS exam, the Salem School Department is looking in many directions — maybe all directions — to improve.
Even before the state push, Salem High doubled the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses.
On another front, the yardstick used for eligibility for sports and other extracurricular activities is being re-evaluated.
Salem High Principal Dave Angeramo has assembled a committee that will meet over the next few weeks to review the academic eligibility rules. In a school where the average student takes as many as eight courses a quarter, failing one or two may prove unacceptable.
Superintendent Stephen Russell, in his first year, has not made a formal recommendation but agrees the subject deserves review.
"If our priority is on academics," he said, "then this needs to be considered. ... It's a little unsettling to look at what you can get for grades and still play."
Salem High, it turns out, is not much different than many high schools in Massachusetts, where students, as a rule, can take part in outside activities like sports even if they are failing one or more courses.
Actually, Salem has a higher standard than some area schools.
The last time he examined the issue two years ago, Angeramo said there were "only two schools (in the Northeastern Conference) that had a stricter policy than we did."
One of the reasons is that many schools follow the minimum requirement set by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for high school sports, which requires passing grades in four major subjects. In other words, a student could have F's in several classes and still put on a uniform on game day.
Peabody High and Danvers High use the MIAA standard.
Salem High used to follow the MIAA guideline but raised it several years ago.
Beverly High set a higher standard. Student-athletes can't fail any courses and can have no more than two D's in a quarter to remain eligible.
Although Salem High did not have data available on how many students could be affected by a policy change, Angeramo confirmed that there are students failing courses and playing sports.
The argument against a stricter eligibility rule, of course, is that being a member of a team can prevent a student from dropping out of school or motivate a student to do better.
If a tougher standard is adopted, officials said they will make sure there is a safety net.
"We're talking about potentially having after-school study halls," Angeramo said. "We want to support the students and not just set the bar high."
Driscoll, who played basketball in high school and college, said sports and other extracurricular activities teach students to manage time and can inspire them to reach new heights.
"When you actually set the bar higher, amazingly, kids will achieve it, and I think that will happen here," she said.
Salem High expects to have a new policy in place by this fall.
Sports eligibility rules
Beverly High: No F's and no more than two D's.
Danvers High: Passing grade in equivalent of four major subjects.
Peabody High: Passing grade in equivalent of four major subjects.
Salem High: Passing six of eight classes with a 60 percent average or higher.
MIAA: Passing grade in the equivalent of four traditional, yearlong major courses.
Sources: MIAA website and school handbooks