Ohio proposals would let high schoolers redo pandemic year

Jun 23, 2021, 11:07 PM | Updated: Jun 24, 2021, 12:29 pm

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The pandemic made Jake Gregg’s senior year of high school very different than anticipated. He got by enough to graduate, but now the 19-year-old Ohioan wants a redo.

The Wheelersburg quarterback aspires to play football in college and wants what coronavirus restrictions took away last year: the chance to visit football camps and meet college coaches, to play a full finale season in front of thousands of fans, to absorb more from classes and elevate his grades that plummeted during remote and hybrid learning.

Some Ohio lawmakers are proposing it’s only fair to offer Gregg and other students that second chance if they want it. But the Ohio High School Athletic Association isn’t on board.

Under a measure introduced this week by GOP Sen. Andrew Brenner, of Delaware, and Democratic Sen. Teresa Fedor, of Toledo, students who just finished their senior year could re-enroll in 12th grade this fall to take the same classes and get another round of eligibility for sports.

“It’s really important not only for student-athletes but for all students that they get this done, because it was a pretty rough year,” said Gregg, who has advocated for that flexibility.

An separate House bill sponsored by Reps. Dontavius Jarrells, D-Columbus, and Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville, would establish a program in which high schoolers could seek their district’s permission to repeat or supplement the courses they took this school year, and pursue additional eligibility for athletics.

Kentucky already created a similar program for students, and Pennsylvania parents might be able to have a child repeat a grade if the governor signs off on legislation that lawmakers passed Thursday.

It’s unclear how many students around Ohio might voluntarily retake the year if given the opportunity. Gregg said he knows of 50 or 60 interested from his and other districts in southern Ohio. Many of them are student-athletes, but some say they want a do-over to boost their academic record or have a more normal last year with friends, he said.

Brenner said he hopes to get the proposal added to the state budget bill being considered this week, but he isn’t sure about the likelihood of success on that. Even if the measure doesn’t become law, he said he hopes the proposal “sends a signal to local school districts that, hey, if you’ve got some seniors from last school year who want to repeat, let them repeat.”

Existing law gives Ohio school boards local control to govern their districts, but there’s no specific language prohibiting or authorizing such voluntary re-enrollment, said Will Schwartz, deputy director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association. OSBA thinks such decisions are best made by the local boards, but the Senate legislation would force them to allow it, Schwartz said.

He said the proposals could present funding and implementation challenges for districts that are already setting their staffing, class schedules and transportation routes for fall. The extracurricular eligibility aspect also could raise concerns that students returning voluntarily might bump another student out of a spot, Schwartz said.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association said it wouldn’t support legislation to give students a voluntary fifth year of athletic eligibility. In an emailed statement Thursday, it said “the impact of older athletes competing at the high school level should be considered.”

It noted that nearly all OHSAA member schools competed in every sport during the 2020-21 school year.

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Ohio proposals would let high schoolers redo pandemic year