The Dougherty County Board of Education voted in June to realign school zones at the middle and high school levels and close two schools – Albany High School and Southside Middle School. In their decision, the board voted to allow seniors the option to select the high school they’d spend their final year.
The names of senior student-athletes who exercised their option by the June 23 deadline were submitted to the GHSA along with a letter requesting that they be allowed to maintain their eligibility under current GHSA by-laws and interpretations of those by-laws.
Tuesday, the GHSA’s Hardship Committee met with DCSS senior leadership and school athletics officials. After hearing their case, the committee voted to deny the DCSS’s request to grant eligibility to seniors who were impacted.
“While we are deeply disappointed that the committee voted to deny our senior student-athletes who, through circumstances beyond the control of their families and their school, the opportunity to play at the school of their choice their final year, we’re committed to working with our students to make sure they have all the tools and resources they need to be successful,” Dyer said.
The seniors that were impacted by the committee's decision have an option to appeal the committee's decision to the state appeals board, but a meeting of that body likely won't happen before school starts on Aug. 1. If the seniors enroll at a school other than their zoned school and the appeal is denied, they would be deemed migrant students, and thereby unable to compete varsity athletics for 365 days.
Seniors can enroll at their new zoned school and participate in athletics with no penalty.
Because the GHSA has no by-law that specifically addresses school closures, the system appealed to the GHSA using Section 1.69(b) of the GHSA By-laws, which stipulates that “…when a school district mandates some students to attend the new school, allows some students to stay at their present school, and permits some students to transfer to the new school, the school shall set a deadline for students living in the service area of the new school to decide whether they will move to the new school, or stay at the present school. The decisions exercised at the deadline date are binding…”
While Section 1.69(b) speaks to a situation that involves the creation of a new school, the system believes that the spirit of that rule still applies given that a decision was made that was out of the control of the students, their parents and their school and the Board of Education provided them the option as to which school they would attend, provided that option was selected prior to June 23rd.
Dougherty County School System Athletics Director Lea Henry said that the decision was a disappointment but that the system is committed to working with students and the GHSA to make sure they have every opportunity available.
“The system put forth a compelling case as to why we felt that the students should be able to maintain their eligibility but the committee felt differently,” Henry said. “We’ll continue to work with all of our student-athletes and their parents to the best of our ability to provide them with every opportunity to compete.”