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Lou Falconi

Farrell school board is considering adopting higher academic standards for students who participate in after-school activities, a proposal that has pitted longtime football coach Lou Falconi against school officials.

The school district follows the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association participation policy, which prohibits a student from competing in sports if he or she is failing a class.

Superintendent Richard Rubano Jr. acknowledged the board is considering a policy that would require students to carry a C average in every class to be eligible to participate in any after-school activity, including athletics.

“We as the board would like to see that as a policy, yes,” board president Michael Wright said after Monday’s work session.

The board does not yet have a policy in writing that is ready for a vote, Rubano said.

The proposal has sparked a debate between educators who want to hold students to higher standards in the classroom and a football coach who wants to keep his players on the field and not punish them for failing to keep what in academia, by definition, is considered an average grade.

“We have to keep our expectations for every single kid high,” Rubano said.

Falconi said if the policy is adopted he would have to tell some athletes not to even bother putting on pads at the start of practice in August because he knows they will not be eligible.

“I’m not saying we want a kid getting D’s and F’s, but I’m saying, ‘Why punish a kid if he’s not getting a C?’ ” said Falconi, who recently retired after more than 30 years as a social studies teacher at Farrell.

He has been a Farrell football coach for the past 33 years, including the last 26 as head coach. He said he will resign if the board adopts the “C” policy.

Falconi pointed out that it’s possible for a student to graduate from Farrell with less than a C average, but those same marks would keep a student-athlete off the field. He said he sees the proposal as a punishment that holds athletes to a different standard than other students.

High school principal Lee McFerren noted that the standard for graduation and participation in after-school activities does not have to be the same.

He and Rubano agreed that the true measure of success is how students perform in the four years after they graduate and beyond.

“We want all kids to be successful and we’re going to make sure that that happens,” Rubano said.

Falconi believes excluding more students from athletics would take away what for some is their only outlet for success.

“What good is it for an (academically) average, maybe below-average kid to punish him further?” Falconi said.

Altering the district’s participation policy involves more than simply setting a new minimum grade level for students.

McFerren said the high school’s grading system needs to be standardized. Some teachers grade students on a number system and others give a letter grade.

Falconi fears a “C” policy would be unfair to athletes because if they scored a 20 or 30 on an exam in a class that uses the number system, it could take a while before they bring their average up to a C.

Rubano said the board has more work to do before it votes on a policy for the upcoming school year, including maximizing individual attention with student-athletes, some of which are funded through state grants.

Rubano said faculty, staff, coaches and other athletic department personnel will be consulted before a new policy is adopted. The goal, he said, is to help student-athletes that are having a difficult time in the classroom.

“We’re trying to raise the bar, but we want it to be fair at the same time,” he said.

Falconi said he would like any changes to the participation policy to be made before the start of the fall sports season.

The board has its regular monthly meeting on Monday. It is not scheduled to meet in July.

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