November 20, 2013 - What's allowed for a few should be allowed for all – at least that's how Oxford resident Jennifer Washington sees it.
Washington called a Detroit television news station last week after finding out about a "double standard" in Oxford Elementary School's Academic Games.
According to Washington, she took her second-grade daughter to the first and second practice of the club's season.
At the second practice, Washington said she was told by Connie Ginste, the head coach who brought the Academic Games to Oxford, that they were not recruiting second-graders at the current time and it's only for grades 3-5.
Washington said she understood.
However, when Washington later found out from her older daughter, who is currently a sixth-grader on the team – the Michigan League of Academic Games allows sixth graders to count as elementary students – that they currently have first- and second-graders on the team, Washington became upset. After approaching Ginste on the issue, she was told these younger students are coaches' kids.
Ginste admitted they have four kids on the team who are in first or second grade. One of them is her grandson, who she's been bringing to the Academic Games since he was 2 years old.
"At this point now, we have four of (the younger kids) who if you don't give them something constructive to do, they're running around the room being a distraction," Ginste told this reporter. "So, we decided 'Hey, we're going to sit them together and let them play among themselves and begin teaching them the game,' because we all intend that they're going to be playing again next year when they are in third grade."
When asked if the first and second-graders were official members of the team, Ginste said they have competed in tournaments.
"I should say they've all shown up for at least one Saturday tournament that we've had and their scores have counted," she said. "We're considering them junior members of the team and kind of evaluating their progress as they go along."
The reason they don't typically recruit students younger than third grade is because they are expected to be at grade level or two higher in terms of math skills, Ginste explained.
"The level of play is not (at) grade level. It's a grade or two above, so third- and fourth-graders play at a fifth- and sixth-grade level with fifth- or sixth-grade skills," she said. "A second-grader coming in would have to play at fifth- or sixth-grade skills and it's way too much to expect an average second-grader to do."
She noted that she allowed her granddaughter to participate when she was in second-grade because she was at a third-grade math level.
"(Academic Games involves a math) cube game with operations and numbers on the cubes. Those operations include multiplication, division, roots and exponents," Ginste added. "Even third- and fourth-graders, unless they are outstanding students and can grasp exponents and radicals, are going to be at a disadvantage, let alone expecting a second-grader to do it, so we just don't recruit second-graders."
Ginste also believes recruiting second-graders "isn't fair."
"I don't think it's fair to them (the students) or fair to the coaches who are preparing their students to come for a competition," she said. "It's not fair to the other players who are playing against someone who doesn't know the game and doesn't know the math."
If they were to open up the Academic Games to one second -grader, they would have to open it up to all of them, which Ginste said they are not prepared to handle right now due to "time constraints and the ability of the children at that grade level."
When asked if allowing the first- and second-grade children of coaches to be on the team was opening a door to allowing others younger students, Ginste didn't believe so.
"No, because (coaches kids) are there because they have to be there," she said. "Other second-graders don't have to be."
According to the school's website "Academic Games is an opportunity for third, fourth and fifth grade students. The program is based around several math, logic, language arts and social studies games. Students compete both individually and as a team. The program is designed for all types of students. We will not turn away students as long as their classroom behavior is acceptable."
While she was told that her second-grader's math skills weren't the best, Washington told this reporter that her daughter has dyslexia and she wanted to use the Academic Games as a way to supplement the classroom learning and help her daughter enhance her skills, knowledge and abilities.
"So she can do something fun to help her learn," added Washington.
Where does administration stand?
In an Oct. 23 e-mail to Washington, OES Principal Jeff Brown wrote "it seems reasonable to me that coach's child or grandchild would be allowed to play, especially since the program would not exist without the coaches. The coach receives $0 for over 100 hours of service. This is a club, not a school activity. There no policies to see. The coaches get to establish how the club(s) they offer to our students function."
Superintendent Dr. William Skilling agrees.
"The coaches for our Academic Games team are volunteers. In order for them to give up their time, they need their children watched; and we cannot and do not expect them to hire babysitters," he said. "I think allowing them to have their first- and second-grade students attend is very appropriate."
Brown also noted in his e-mail "if parents are not happy with how a club is running, they have the option of not participating, as it's not a part of the school day. Parents could also choose to start their own club."
"If this was a private school that probably could happen, but this is public school and featured on a public school's website and paid for by state and federal funds, but they're telling me they can absolutely do what they want to because they started this club," Washington said. "So, can I borrow the chemistry lab and start (a) club or group to process (crystal meth)? No, I can't do that because there are guidelines you have to follow. Everybody has some policies or guidelines that they have to follow."
According Oxford Community Schools' Code of Conduct, "Oxford Community Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, sex, disability, age, height, weight, marital status, or any other legal protected characteristic, in its programs and activities, including employment."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.