MVRHS school committee mulls mixed-gender travel policy

Several members favor same-sex chaperones and supporters on the buses.

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Spirited discussion about whether a need exists for chaperones or support people to accompany mixed-gender teams on road trips led to deadlock Monday night when the MVRHS school committee voted 3-3 on a proposed athletic handbook for the 2018 academic year.

The “chaperone” discussion came up during a discussion of a proposed athletic handbook and whether policy language addressing the issue should be included.

A new overall MVRHS handbook has been approved, but without the athletic component, which was deleted with the expectation of a separate athletic handbook in place. Kris O’Brien, MVRHS committee chairman, told the Times following the Monday vote that a special committee meeting is being planned to address the athletic handbook issue this month. Otherwise, language relating to athletics from the prior year’s handbook would be used.

During discussion of proposed language changes in the athletic handbook by MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy, board member Kim Kirk of Edgartown told the committee that the school should have a policy in place both for liability exposure and appropriateness in the case of mixed-gender teams and single-gender teams coached by a person of a different sex. An estimated nine MVRHS teams fit into one category or the other, members, staff, and coaches in the room surmised.

While there have been no reports about either issue to date, Kirk, who is an attorney and a mother of a student on a mixed-gender team, said the committee should be proactive rather than responding to an incident should one occur. “We need a [chaperone] policy in place going forward. Sexual harassment is so broadly defined these days,” she said.

Kirk offered an example where the presence of a same-gender chaperone on a bus trip would be more comfortable, particularly when athletes are changing. “I wouldn’t want to be on a bus where boys are changing,” she said, citing discomfort for the athletes and herself. “I don’t want to be there for that,” she said.

In addition to language changes and clarification on issues like academic eligibility and compliance with statewide (MIAA) athletic regulations, Dingledy is proposing ongoing year-end surveys of coaches and players as part of a review to collect data and to identify actionable items.

Kirk was adamant about the need for immediate policy development action. “A year-end survey is shoving [it] under the rug,” she said. Her argument swayed the vote of at least two members, including Skipper Manter, who said likely the additional expense of providing same-sex support “is worth the investment.” Bob Lionette said, “It makes common sense to me.”

The committee spent 45 minutes on the topic, much of the time devoted to naming the “chaperone” function and defining its duties, whether teachers would be available for the job, whether a new hire(s) would be needed or whether a cadre of part-time chaperones/support/monitors would work.

Varsity track coach Joe Schroeder said that fall sports (track, field hockey, sailing, and golf) would produce 20 occasions when the support function would be in play before November. Schroeder said weather issues producing cancellations and rescheduling further complicate the matter.

The committee and high school staff will continue the discussion, and research state school policies and practices. Dingledy said that MVRHS teacher Jeremy Light will be the contact person for project.

The committee lost its quorum about an hour into the meeting during a presentation by Sam Parsons, executive director of Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard, who was outlining a plan to develop a deeper relationship with the high school with an eye to serving the ages 18 to 24 resident community with career and college education and training options on-Island.

Without a quorum, the committee also did not get to an agenda item for approval for an owner’s project manager (OPM) for the high school track and field renovation project. Earlier in the day, the facilities subcommittee of the school committee selected Daedalus, Inc. of Watertown as its OPM, and had planned to ask for full committee approval at its Monday meeting. The committee also hopes to fast-track that vote later this month.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Mixed gender teams, or single gender teams should have 2 chaperones or coaches for liability issues with the team gender or genders dictating the gender of the chaperones. The chaperones are also witnesses to each other if an allegation of improper conduct is made. When dealing with minors I would have thought this was current practice.

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