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Bemidji School District looks at extracurricular policies

BEMIDJI – The school district here is in the process of clarifying its policies on allowing outside students to partake in its extracurricular activities.

The policy, which could be approved next month, clarifies that other nonpublic students may take part in extracurricular programs if they register for at least one class through the school district.

“That way, they are truly a part of District 31,” said Jim Hess, superintendent of the Bemidji School District.

Hess noted that Bemidji School District provides transportation back and forth for private students attending classes within the district.

The policy only allows for the participation of nonpublic students, for instance private-school students enrolled at Heartland Christian Academy or St. Philip’s.

The policy still would not allow other public school students – those enrolled at area charter schools – to participate in Bemidji School District activities.

Hess said he began reviewing the existing policy after he learned it wasn’t being applied consistently.

“I was talking with our middle school administrators and some of our coaches and it seemed as though we had an inconsistent practice as to allowing students to participate in middle school … activities,” Hess said.

Specifically, he said, some private-school students were allowed to take part in middle-school activities and sports because staff figured they would, likely, become future Lumberjacks at Bemidji High School.

“That’s not so,” Hess said of how the policy was intended to be practiced. “They need to actually join and they join by enrolling in a class.”

The school board dispensed of the first reading of the revised policy Monday. A second reading, which could include adoption, is scheduled for the Jan. 28 school board meeting.  

School board chairwoman Ann Long Voelkner asked about the district’s guidelines in allowing seventh- and eighth-graders to compete at the varsity-level.

Hess said it does happen albeit rarely, particularly in sports such as wresting, swimming and diving, and soccer.

Generally, he said, middle-school athletics is about participation and allowing middle-schoolers to explore team sports under the direction of a coach.

“But that butts up against a very strong desire to be competitive and to win at the varsity level,” he said. “At the varsity level, we want to put the best athletes, the best performers that we can, on the field.”

Parents or guardians must consent to allow their student to compete at a younger age at a varsity level, noted school board member Melissa Bahr.