From the Bench: BHS Principal DeFazio Not Thrilled with Sports, Extracurricular Activity Legislation
Editor’s Note:This blog was done several days ago. There is a chance that it may have been signed or vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice. Regardless, this is the thoughts on the legislation regardless of its status from Bridgeport High School Principal Mark DeFazio.
Maybe it’s because he’s much closer to the end of his educational career than he is to the beginning of it, but if you want an opinion on an educationally related hot topic then Bridgeport High School Principal Mark DeFazio is the man to go to. His often brutal honesty, whether you agree with his position or not, is refreshing.
Of course, I figured when I picked up the phone earlier this week to see what DeFazio thought about House Bill 2169’s passage I was fairly certain whatever side of the fence he fell that he would provide some good soundbites. I was correct.
For those not following, House Bill 2169 was originally drafted to allow home-schooled students a chance to play sports in the public school system. As it ended up, it also allows students at private and parochial schools that don’t have a sports or extracurricular program to allow students that are in those schools to participate in those sports and extracurricular sports in their respective district.
“I wasn’t for it when it was for home-schooled students and I’m not for the expanded version,” said DeFazio. “My thoughts are pretty simple on this, and I know not everyone will agree with them and that’s fine.
“Going to a private or parochial school or being home schooled is choice that students and their families make. With choices there are ramifications and consequences, both good and bad,” he continued. “If they don’t offer the sport or any extracurricular activity then that’s the cost of making that decision. Again, we’re teaching our students if there are no ramifications for decisions that are made; we’ll just change the rules.”
It’s probably safe to say the WVSSAC isn’t in favor of the final bill. In this quote by Executive Director Bernie Dolan prior to the amendment adding in the private and parochial school students, he explained his rationale for being against it recently to MetroNews.com.
“One of the main pillars of our organization is that you should be enrolled in that school to represent them,” Dolan said. “It’s only four periods a day – if you went four periods a day, you could participate.
“There are a lot of people who are doing an incredible job with home schooling,” he continued. “But they don’t see the other group that we see at the high school level of (kids) dropping out of school, but calling it home school so that they can avoid the legal system for compulsory education.”
Understand that the WVSSAC represents principals and athletic directors statewide. In other words, his opposition comes at their approval. Count DeFazio among the group.
“What bothers me, too, is that this likely originated with a legislator that either is home schooling a student or was home schooled and simply isn’t listening to what principals are telling them across the state,” said DeFazio. “I’m not anti-home schooling or anti-private or parochial school, heck my brother went to Notre Dame, but there are issues with this legislation, particularly the home schooled part of it.”
DeFazio said that at BHS kids are required to be at school by 8 a.m. and stay until roughly 3 p.m. If they get sick, come half a day or leave early then they’re not practicing or participating in extracurricular activities that day.
“How are we as administrators supposed to know if a home school student starts their day at 10 a.m. or maybe takes a few hours off during the day? How do we know if they got sick in the middle of the morning and felt better during the day? Again, that’s not saying that it happens, but there’s no way to guarantee it doesn’t happen,” said DeFazio. “That’s not fair to the kids here that we hold a standard to.”
The biggest argument that I’ve heard beyond the true positives of learning of the benefits of teamwork and practice for any type of event is that those involved in the non-public school educational format pay taxes that fund the educational programs. DeFazio said he “respects the argument,” but doesn’t agree with it.
“You have the option to attend public school and no one is forced to go to a private or parochial school and be home schooled,” said DeFazio. “That’s what your ’re taxes are used for so if they’re not taking advantage of it I don’t see why a rule needs to be changed. You’ll get this argument and others all day, but it comes down to individual choice and ramifications from those choices. Here, it’s been decided there aren’t the same ramifications.”
One legislator opposed to the bill did say that the tax argument isn’t a good one. He said that although families pay taxes, kids that attend the non-public schools don’t count toward the state’s school aid formula. The number of students in public schools determines how much funding each school system receives from the state.
“It doesn’t matter what I say about taxes or anything else, I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. At the same time, no one’s changing mine either,” said DeFazio. “This is another example of teaching kids in life decisions don’t always have consequences.”
If there are home-schooled or private or parochial students that end up participating in Bridgeport extracurricular activities, DeFazio said there is no reason to be concerned with his opinion. He said a student wouldn’t know otherwise.
“I would never interfere with a student in all my years I can proudly say there’s never been any attempt by me to intentionally hurt a student,” said DeFazio. “I’ll do what the law says to do and live with it. Any students that would take advantage of this will be treated like everyone else.
“No one’s ever going to convince me this is the right thing to do though,” he continued. “If you believe the better place for your child’s education is at home or in another setting that’s great. Why, then, would you want your children involved in public school extracurricular activities? To me it doesn’t make sense even though I know people disagree with that.”
While DeFazio and every other principal and athletic director at high schools and middle school across West Virginia will have to abide by the legislation, it’s not entirely official yet. The matter still has to be signed by Gov. Jim Justice.
Justice has a week or so, I’ve been told, to veto it or sign it. Justice, ironically, may take a close look as he doubles as a basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School and may have some unique opinions of his own on the matter.
If he wants another, Mark DeFazio has no problem giving his own opinion.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows BHS Principal Mark DeFazio, while bottom photo is of a recent BHS-Robert C. Byrd boys basketball game. Bottom photo by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com.