Early high school admission? It will happen in Columbus if Muscogee school board OKs plan

Eighth-graders in Columbus could participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their assigned high school when those activities aren’t offered by their middle school under a proposal being considered by the Muscogee County School District Board.

MCSD athletics director Jeff Battles presented the plan, recommended by superintendent David Lewis, to the board during its monthly work session Monday night.

It was on the agenda for the board to vote May 15. But after Kia Chambers, the nine-member board’s lone countywide representative, Naomi Buckner of District 4 and board vice chairwoman Laurie McRae of District 5 asked for the proposal to be tabled for further consideration, the proposal now is scheduled for a vote at the June 26 meeting, board secretary Karen Jones said.

Proposal explained

The MCSD administration is seeking approval from the board to allow seventh-graders to receive their high school assignment a year earlier than they do now, which is in eighth grade. This would permit eighth-graders to participate in high school extracurricular activities not offered at their middle school and “allow them to acclimate quicker once they begin their freshman year,” according to the agenda.

If the board approves the plan, seventh-graders could apply for high school magnet programs in the fall of 2023, starting in October, and all seventh-graders would receive their high school assignment in the spring semester of 2024, based on their acceptance into a magnet program or their residence in an attendance zone.

Then, starting in the summer before their eighth-grade year, those students could participate in high school extracurricular activities not offered at their middle school.

The Georgia High School Association bylaws forbid eighth-graders from participating in high school varsity sports, so they would be restricted to junior varsity or other sub-varsity teams.

If a high school magnet program has an admissions test, it should use grade-level appropriate questions to accommodate seventh-graders, the proposal says.

Seventh-graders who accept admission into a high school magnet program can change their mind and reapply for a high school magnet program as eighth-graders or choose to attend the high school in their attendance zone.

School board members react

The presentation from Battles sparked a series of comments and questions from board members.

Board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 said students who don’t apply to a high school magnet program in seventh grade but change their mind and apply in eighth grade could be “shut out” because all the seats might be taken.

Principals wouldn’t fill every seat from the first round of applications to accommodate such a situation, Battles said, as they do now to leave seats available for transfer students.

Buckner expressed concern that some parents might not want their eighth-grader to be “comingling” with high school students. Battles emphasized, although all seventh-graders would be assigned to a high school, it would be optional — not mandatory — when they become eighth-graders to participate in high school extracurricular activities not offered at their middle school.

McRae asked whether the plan would allow any seventh-grader to apply for early admission into a high school magnet program, not only seventh-graders wanting to participate in extracurricular activities. Yes, Battles said.