Texas Judge Fans Flames of Sports-Eligibility Fracas

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The high-school gridiron controversy that has been making Texas tempers flare escalated a notch last week, when a state judge ruled that the commissioner of education does not have the authority to determine a student's eligiblity for athletics and other extracurricular activities under the state's no-pass, no-play law.

State officials said that the ruling, if upheld, could destroy the law and severely undermine the commissioner's authority to implement, through regulations, other aspects of Texas's 1984 education-reform package.

"This ruling will not stand," predicted Commissioner of Education William N. Kirby. "The legislature is going to be incensed, and it's going to make absolutely clear that the commissioner has the right, not to make grades, but to review grades that have been changed."

The Dec. 6 ruling by Judge Paul Davis overturned Mr. Kirby's Nov. 18 decision in a case affecting the athletic eligibility of a star running back on a Dallas high-school team contending for the state football8championship. (See Education Week, Nov. 30, 1988.)

The commissioner ruled that the student had failed an algebra class, but that his grade change to passing--the focus of local controversy and a subsequent investigation--had come about because of confusion over the number of points allowed from an incomplete homework assignment.

Under the state's no-pass, no-play law, a student who fails a class is barred from competing in sports or other activities for six weeks.

The Plano school district in suburban Dallas, which would have competed in the championships had the Dallas team been ruled ineligible because of its illegal player, joined the state education agency in a lawsuit stemming from the incident. Plano officials argued that the commissioner has the authority to review grades and determine eligibility under the no-pass, no-play law.

Marvin Edwards, the Dallas superintendent, had maintained that the case was a matter of local control, and that the issue was whether or not a school district has the authority to determine its own grading procedures.

The court ruling allowed Dallas's Carter High School to continue its playoff bid, but the state last week was planning an appeal. The Carter team was scheduled to play in the semifinals of the state 5A football tournament on Dec. 10.--nm

Vol. 08, Issue 15

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