High school protests SCC league ouster
School officials and student athletes went on the offensive last week to fight a decision by the South Coast Conference (SCC) to drop-kick Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) out of the athletic league, but they were unsuccessful.
Principal Margaret (Peg) Regan, athletic director Mike Joyce, and eight MVRHS student athletes traveled to New Bedford last Wednesday. They met with Mayor Scott Lang, who promised to look into why Fairhaven High School and Greater New Bedford Technical High School did not support the Vineyard's membership in the conference.
"Mayor Lang and his aide said they are working with [state] Senator Mark Montigny to find out specifically why the New Bedford area schools have voted against us, since they are the closest to the fast ferry and have the easiest commute," Ms. Regan said.
Since the high school has paid $26,000 over the last two years to underwrite the costs of fast ferry transportation for the visiting teams plus food and any necessary accommodations, she felt there should be some kind of explanation.
On Thursday, Ms. Regan attended an SCC meeting at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School to make a case for keeping the Vineyard in the league. A few days before Ms. Regan's appearance at the meeting, Sean P. Sweeney, legal counsel to the regional high school and school committee, sent a letter to SCC president Linda Enos warning her of legal action resulting from the Vineyard's exclusion from the conference.
"Prior to embarking upon what could be costly and protracted litigation, I would ask that either you or the conference's legal counsel contact me in order to discuss whether there is any potential for resolution short of litigation," Mr. Sweeney wrote.
The vote to oust the Vineyard occurred at a January 11 meeting in New Bedford. Principals of SCC member schools asked Ms. Regan to leave the room, and then voted against keeping the Vineyard in the conference after the high school's two-year trial associate membership ends in May.
Mr. Sweeney's letter to Ms. Enos last week questioned the validity of the SCC's vote and Ms. Regan's exclusion from it, as the bylaws state associate membership includes voting rights. He also raised the issue of whether a quorum was present and whether the vote behind closed doors violated the state's open meeting law.
In addition, Mr. Sweeney wrote, the SCC's bylaws require written notice of the reasons for a proposed exclusion from the conference, which was not given to Ms. Regan. She also should have received a reply to a grievance letter she wrote to SCC officials within 10 days.
"To date, my client has not received even the courtesy of a response from you as president of the conference, despite the passage of over one month since the vote and her correspondence with you," Mr. Sweeney pointed out in his letter to Ms. Enos.
At last Thursday's meeting, principals from the SCC schools continued to stonewall Ms. Regan when she asked for more information about the vote and the rationale behind it.
"They still won't give a reason why three principals voted against us," Ms. Regan said on Friday. "They did tell me the vote was five to three on January 11, and then they called the principal at Fairhaven, who was absent that day, and he joined the negative group." The other three schools included Apponequet, Joseph Case, and Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical high schools, according to some athletic directors and superintendents Ms. Regan talked to after the vote.
No complaints or issues had been raised and no discussion took place before the vote, Ms. Regan said. In her letter to the SCC officials on Jan. 12, she described the events that led up to the vote and asked them to reconsider. Martha's Vineyard superintendent of public schools James Weiss also followed up after the vote with a letter to the superintendents of SCC member schools on Jan. 16.
Although none of the principals came out and said it, Ms. Regan surmised that travel to the Vineyard is a factor in their decision. This week, Swansea Schools superintendent Stephan Flanagan confirmed the travel issue definitely tipped the scales against the Vineyard for him.
Mr. Flanagan said that in response to Mr. Weiss's letter in January, he called him to explain why Swansea's Joseph Case high school principal Brian McCann voted against the Vineyard's staying in the SCC.
"The true issue is the distance, the time, and the time the athletes were getting back to the high school here," Mr. Flanagan said. "There isn't a huge conspiracy to deny the athletes of Martha's Vineyard an opportunity to compete - we have to be concerned with what happens to our athletes."
Last year, the Case school's math department chairman told Mr. Flanagan a team that traveled to the Vineyard got home around midnight and had an MCAS exam the next day.
"When I look at the high school MCAS results and I see that three students missed one of the proficiency levels by a question, I'm going to think, were they on the boat the night before?" Mr. Flanagan pointed out.
"I would say the option would be very available for Martha's Vineyard to have their games here, so that we take that variable of traveling to the Vineyard out of the equation," Mr. Flanagan suggested. "They're great kids, they're good athletes - but somewhere along the line, somebody made a decision to live on an Island."
At the end of last week's SCC meeting, Ms. Regan said, "It was left that they were not going to give me a reason, and they were not going to vote again, and that they were happy to give me the results of the vote." She added, "Basically, there was no other information offered, and they just were very, very peeved."
One school official that asked not to be identified said the threat of legal action did not win the Vineyard any friends. If the vote was taken again, Martha's Vineyard would definitely be out, the official speculated.
"Honestly, as far as it goes for a principal, you'll go to whatever game against any school that you play," said Ms. Regan. "But the kids lose out on the opportunities, the programs, the scholarships, and the notoriety, and that's what's not fair."
Although the high school has a legal advisory budget, Ms. Regan said contract negotiations this year drew down the funds and additional money may be needed if legal action is taken against the SCC. She said she will try to provide some estimated costs to the MVRHS school committee at the April meeting.
The Vineyard has competed in the SCC the last five seasons in boys' and girls' soccer, boys' hockey, boys' and girls' basketball, baseball, softball, and field hockey. The high school remains an associate member of the Mayflower League for football, track, and cross-country.
The SCC is run by member school principals and athletic directors from Apponequet (Lakeville), Bourne, Dighton-Rehoboth, Joseph Case (Swansea), Fairhaven, Greater New Bedford Regional Technical Vocational, Old Rochester Regional, Seekonk, and Wareham high schools.
Ms. Regan said several of the athletic directors are supportive of the Vineyard's remaining in the conference. "The athletic directors are calling our athletic director and scheduling contests for the fall," she said. "Now we will not be league members after May, but it tells you that both the coaches and the teams are in support of playing Martha's Vineyard. So, for some reason that we cannot discern or find, we were just not given the privileges of league membership because of three or four principals."