Punitive measures aren't answer for Oktibbeha schools


West Oktibbeha County High School football coach Adam Lowrey said he will do everything he can to make sure state officials know how a postseason ban would affect his players.

West Oktibbeha County High School football coach Adam Lowrey said he will do everything he can to make sure state officials know how a postseason ban would affect his players. Photo by: David Miller/Special to The Dispatch


Adam Minichino



Apparently punitive remedies are the only ones that work for the Mississippi Department of Education. 


Why else would the state Department of Education deny the West Oktibbeha County High School football team something it has worked so hard to earn the past year to earn? 


As it stands today, coach Adam Lowrey's Timberwolves won't be allowed to compete next week in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A playoffs. It doesn't matter that the Timberwolves (8-2, 6-1 Class 1A, Region 3) have earned their spot in the postseason. The eight victories are a single-season record for the program. A game Friday at Pelahatchie figured to determine whether West Oktibbeha would be the No. 2 or the No. 3 seed in the region. 


In this case, though, achievement doesn't matter. In this case, the letter of the law is paramount. 


Earlier this month, the state of Mississippi decided to take over the Oktibbeha County School District. Patrice Guilfoyle, communications director for the Mississippi Department of Education, said Tuesday there never was any question the district would lose its accreditation, which would prevent West and East Oktibbeha County high schools from competing in MHSAA postseason play. On Oct. 23, the Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation officially revoked the district's accreditation status during a specially-called meeting, according to Guilfoyle. 


OCSD conservator Jayne Sargent said Tuesday she received notice of the loss of accreditation last week. She said this accreditation loss --┬ábased largely on sub-standard test scores and low graduation rates --┬ámeans both schools will be unable to play anything other than region contests, effective immediately. 


That decision makes perfect sense: Penalize current student-athletes at the schools because administrators and lawmakers making hundreds of thousands of dollars failed to recognize the problem and then allowed it to get to this point. 


But I guess we shouldn't be surprised. After all, in January, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released its 17th Report Card on American Education. The report analyzed data from national test scores, state education policy, charter school regulation, and other benchmarks of quality" and graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The states were graded on two factors: 1) student performance and their progress on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams and 2) education reform policies, including academic standards, school choice programs, charter schools, online learning, and the ability to hire good teachers and fire bad ones. 


Mississippi ranked 48th in the first category and received a 'C' in the second. 


Last year, a report examining how states' primary education systems are preparing students for careers in engineering ranked Mississippi last in the nation. The Science and Engineering Readiness Index (SERI) measures how high school students are performing in physics and calculus -- based on publicly available data, including Advanced Placement scores, National Assessment of Educational Progress reports, teacher certification requirements by state and physics class enrollment data. 


That's why it should have come as no surprise in September when the state school board declared a state of emergency at the Oktibbeha County School District. Paula Vanderford, with the department of education, told Mississippi Public Broadcasting that the district has been struggling for years, and is the only district in the state with a school that has been ranked 'F' or failing three years in a row. 


MPB reported the board found the district in violation of 29 of 30 accreditation standards such as buses failing inspection and classrooms using power extension cords as a permanent source of electricity. 


Governor Phil Bryant told MPB, "If you look at how many schools are failing, we cannot continue to stand by and let things go on as they always have. It is just not acceptable anymore." 


The Oktibbeha County School District is the latest in a line to be taken over by the state. In April, the state took over the Aberdeen School District. On Tuesday, the Jackson School Board accepted an agreement that will allow the district to retain state accreditation. 


According to The Associated Press, Aberdeen is the eighth Mississippi school district under state control, joining Drew, Hazlehurst, Indianola, North Panola, Okolona, and Sunflower and Tate counties. 


Naturally, the "right" thing to do is to take away a source of hope for the student-athletes at the schools. Some of these young men and women will use athletics to take the next step in their lives, so why does the state feel stripping postseason opportunities is the best plan of action? 


Is there no other solution? Is a fazed-in reduction of time spent on extra-curricular activities not possible? Are there not enough auditors or tutors available at the local and state level to help failing or in-danger schools? Is there not enough money to develop a plan that addresses a solution while allowing student-athletes to feel good about what they accomplish in their schools? 


Apparently the state Department of Education is incapable of pursuing any of those paths. Instead, it will continue to use the same methods to correct issues that have been ignored or have been unattended for too long. In the end, the students again will be the ones who get the worst of the deal. 




Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. He can be reached at: [email protected]


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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