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“Put me in, coach”

EPSB committee debates junior varsity and other policy changes

The big topic of discussion at a meeting of the Evangeline Parish School Board’s Policy Committee, held Wednesday, January 6, was whether or not to allow students of advanced ages/grade levels to play junior varsity football.
Superintendent Darwan Lazard said he was asked to create a policy that would prevent a student in 9th to 12th grade varsity sports from playing on the grades seven-eight junior varsity. He said it is not against the rules of the LHSAA, but it was mentioned to him out of concerns for safety when older students, who can be larger, are playing with younger, smaller students. Lazard said sometimes older players are allowed to play on junior varsity to help them build up their skills and give them playing time when they are not at the same caliber as the varsity team. Lazard had consulted Coach Tony Bertrand, who could not be present during the discussion.
Supervisor Johnny Deshotel said this happens often. “I think if we discontinue that, we would be doing a disservice to our kids who do not get to play on varsity,” he said. “They probably wouldn’t play at all on the high school team, but allowing them to play on JV gives them some playing time.”
School board vice president Scott Limoges said his idea of JV is ninth and tenth grades. He said he has seen an eighth grader playing varsity on the high school team and playing JV for the seventh and eighth grades. He thought that is what the conversation was going to be about. “Y’all are talking about a tenth grader playing with the seventh and eighth graders? That happens? I did not know that.” Several board members said they were also not aware. Deshotel said when he grew up, JV was ninth and tenth grade. “It really has changed. It hasn’t been like that in a long time,” said Deshotel.
Limoges made the point that if a tenth grader is playing with the seventh graders, then a seventh grader would get less playing time. “I don’t know how to balance that on a scale in my mind,” he said. “You’re helping the older one to get playing time to become better, which makes perfect sense, but the younger one, who probably needs work, too, just got bumped is the way I look at it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”
Deshotel said he can see the pros and cons of the situation. He said the LHSAA argued about this a few years ago, and, while they did not create a policy, one of the things they recommended, for example, was if an eight-grader is good enough to play on varsity, not letting that student go back to JV.
Board member Nick Chaumont said in Basile, there is a seventh-and-eighth grade game, a ninth-and-tenth grade JV game, and a high school game. “I’ve never seen a senior who doesn’t play, go play a junior high game.” He said he has seen one kid play junior high, JV, and high school while in eighth grade.
Board member Sheila Joseph said, “I don’t think that should be for the older students to come down grade levels to play, because they had their turn already. Give those younger kids their turns. They had their chance to play during their time. If they’re not good enough for their grade, sorry, but it wouldn’t be right for those younger ones to be bumped.”
Deshotel reiterated the term “junior varsity” is not what it used to be. Joseph asked what is the definition of it now. After much back-and-forth discussion regarding the definition of “JV” and whether or not to allow older students to play with the younger students, the committee agreed to table the discussion until they can consult coaches and athletic directors to get their input and gain further clarification.
The committee also updated the policy regarding employment of retired personnel.
School board attorney Bob Hammonds recommended replacing the old policy with a new, more generalized and concise policy to avoid having to constantly make changes as the retirement systems tweak their requirements. The board adopted the new policy, which basically now says the school board, staff and members, do not have the authority to give advice to employees retiring. Assistant superintendent Michael Lombas gave an example of changes that have occurred since 2012. He said they used to be able to hire retirees back, at will with no problem, and the retiree could still collect their retirement. Then the state said the schools could not do that unless they declare a critical shortage, and then the retiree could come back, collect their retirement and their full salary.
According to Lombas, without warning, this past year the state changed their policy, saying schools could declare a critical shortage and hire a retired teacher back, but the retiree would have to surrender their retirement. “Now who’s coming back and can’t collect their retirement? They cut us off at the knees and nobody even realized it,” said Lombas. He said no one told them of this change, so when they went to hire a retiree recently, they had declared a critical shortage and the teacher was ready to go, but the state said she would have to give up her retirement. The teacher turned down the job that Lombas said was difficult to fill.
Hammonds simplified the board’s policy, saying the state can make all the changes they want, but the retiree will have to contact their retirement system directly for advice. Lombas said he has three teacher retirees who are grandfathered in who are collecting full salary and retirement. “If they leave, I can’t replace them with a retired teacher,” he said. “There is a whole stream of veteran teachers out there who can’t work for us. It’s insane. Nobody talks about that. We can’t hire retirees back. That hurts us.” The committee adopted Hammond’s recommended policy.
The previous policy dealing with COVID-19 sick days ended on December 31, 2020. Those days were granted as part of the federal government’s relief bill. The new relief bill did not include 10 days of COVID leave. “People are still getting COVID,” said Lombas. Even though it’s not part of the federal relief bill, Hammonds recommended granting 10 COVID days, to be added to the extended sick leave policy. However, if employees have already used their 10 days, they do not get another 10 days. “This is for people who haven’t gotten COVID yet, but should they get it, they would have 10 days of COVID leave available,” said Lombas. If employees need more time to recover, they can tap into their regular sick days. The committee granted the 10 COVID sick days in addition to their regular and extended sick leave. They also approved retroactive sick leave for employees who have become sick since the beginning of the semester on January 4. The extra 10 days will expire June 30, 2021, which is the end of the fiscal school year.
Further, the committee updated its policy on sports injuries. There has to be a mandatory plan in place for each sport according to the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Athletic Trainer’s Association. Now, athletic trainers have to be licensed in order to remove a student from practice, training, or competition if they have symptoms of a sports injury. Further, outdoor sports will require schools to calculate the temperature and humidity and apply it to what a person can endure to help prevent heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

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