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Participation agreements address middle school activities

The template agreements would allow middle school students from other schools to participate in Brainerd activities.

Heidi Hahn sits behind table
Brainerd Superintendent Heidi Hahn tells School Board members Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, about changes to the district's activities participation policy.
Thersea Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Brainerd school administrators have a plan for allowing middle school students from other schools to participate in activities.

School Board members approved templates for non-continuation participation and middle school participation agreements Monday, Aug. 8, that would allow students in fifth-eighth grades from other schools to take part in Brainerd activities without breaking Minnesota State High School League rules.

The new agreements come after Superintendent Heidi Hahn sent a letter out to families in July explaining that students who are not enrolled at Brainerd Public Schools will no longer be able to participate in state high school league activities at Brainerd unless a formal agreement is in place.

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After public criticism about the decision, Hahn clarified the change is due to state high school league eligibility guidelines and not due to financial constraints or the desire to entice students to enroll in the district. State high school league bylaws require students who are not enrolled in the district — except in the case of homeschooling — to be covered under a cooperative agreement with the district in order to be eligible for activities.

While this bylaw is not new, Hahn said Brainerd became comfortable with informal agreements but now must do a better job to comply with the league’s bylaws to ensure participants’ eligibility. Through conversations with high school league officials, she said, the district learned they were risking violations of the bylaw. Entire teams could be at risk if there is an eligibility issue with one student.

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The change in policy does not affect any of the cooperative agreements Brainerd already has in place with other districts, nor does it affect homeschooled students who live in the district.

Hahn also shed some light Monday on how the state defines homeschool. The state’s definition requires the school to have five or fewer students to qualify as a homeschool. But when asked about families who have more than five children, Hahn said they would still qualify as homeschooled.

With high schools still allowed to approach Brainerd about entering into cooperative agreements for activities, Hahn said the students most affected by the change are those in middle school. The two agreements approved Monday will address those students.

A non-continuation participation agreement is for schools — such as St. Francis of the Lakes — that do not have a high school component. Under the state high school league bylaws, a student in seventh, eighth or ninth grade who attends a school under a separate administrative head and governing board that does not have a continuation high school and where no other opportunity for participation on a high school team exists, is eligible to participate for a high school team provided the high school and the non-continuation school have established a joint agreement for participation in each league activity.

The middle school participation agreement outlines terms and conditions of participation between two schools for only middle school activities.

“The school making the request can choose what agreement they feel best fits their needs for their middle school students,” Hahn said. “And then we’ll review those, we’ll get those in place. The School Board clerk will sign off on that agreement to make sure that it’s done with the board review, and then we’ll have that agreement filed in the activities office for any Minnesota State High School League inquiries, and we’ll review these agreements annually.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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