Millburn School Board members discussed changes to the athletics policy on Monday night, making it clear that athletes who don't attend Millburn schools cannot participate in school sports, a rule that would keep home-schooled students from getting to play.
The change in wording evolved out of changes to policies around the state and the country – in some communities home-schooled students are allowed to play sports for school teams and in other communities they are not, said Board Member Sam Levy, who heads the board’s policy committee.
The rule allowing home schooled children to play school sports is sometimes referred to as the “Tim Tebow Rule” because Tebow was homeschooled and played high school sports in his Florida hometown before going on play in college and the NFL, he said.
Millburn does not allow home-schooled students to pick up a chemistry or calculus class so some board members said it is only fair that they not be allowed to play sports either.
“Our policies do not permit that kind of cherry picking (in academics) either,” Levy said.
“The prevailing wisdom is that it’s not fair for those students to participate when they don't have the same restrictions and academic pressures to meet as the students in school,” Levy said. “I think it is also meant to eliminate districts from potentially poaching top athletes from other districts and bring them in to be home schooled in the district and play for the team.”
Mark Zucker said that he thought it was important to make the community aware of the policy so that anyone who wants to discuss it will have a chance.
“If you are home schooled and have no opportunity to participate in sports, yet your parents are paying axes,” Zucker said. “I don’t really feel all that strongly about it though.”
A couple of residents spoke against the policy change, saying that home schooled children should not be excluded from sports because their parents do pay taxes and those taxes do go to support the schools.
The board also reviewed other policies, mostly editing out the pre-ambles to specific policies.
In other discussion, at the beginning of the meeting, Board President Michael Birnberg polled the other members of the board to find out if they had leaked information from a a recent executive session.
Birnberg said that during the executive session, there was a discussion concerning a matter that could not be made public (all information in executive sessions is private). Later, he said, some correspondence with the subject of the discussion seemed to include exact wording from the Board's private discussion. When polled as to whether they had shared information from the executive session, all the board members said, "No." So Birnberg said he would be looking into the matter further.
In his report to the board, Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield listed numerous accomplishments by Millburn High School students, including the who have been named National Merit Finalists in the 2012 Competition for National Merit Scholarships and three US Presidential Scholars (students who made a perfect score on the SAT.)
This prompted Board Member Jeffrey Waters to remind the audience that so many National Merit Scholar finalists is unusual for most high schools.
He said he was glad for the public to hear this news because at the last meeting two members of the audience chastised the school board only being the best in the state and having fallen in rank nationally, stating that MHS students are competing with kids from better schools that are thinking outside the box.
“From what I heard last week it sounded like because we don’t have organic gardening, the school district is on the verge of collapse, then I hear this data,” Waters said.
“I like it when a number proves a point,” he said. “And I think we have some numbers here that do prove a point and the point is not that because we don’t have organic gardening somehow the Millburn school system is a failure. That’s preposterous.”
He went on to admonish those the system without facts to back it up.
“I think this small group of people are having a disproportionate impact on public perception and they’re doing it through the press and it’s flat out wrong,” he said. “I, and everyone up here, will be totally vigilant at the slightest sign of that (decline) but I don’t see it, and I look for it every day …We’re doing extraordinary things here every day.”
School officials also received praise from parents for the kick off of the strategic planning session that was held on Sunday.
About 60 participants showed up and got to work, said Dr. Christine Burton, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum,
“It was a wonderful day, generating ideas and discussion,” she said, adding that she would keep the community updated on the progress on the district's website.