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Activities proposal draws single critic

Updated: 03/13/08 7:06 AM

Only one speaker at a public hearing Wednesday was against allowing non-enrolled students to participate in extracurricular activities sponsored by Grand Island Schools, and she knew why she stood alone.

“Most of the people you’ll hear from are the ones with some kind of interest in letting [non-enrolled] students take part,” resident Lee Cohen said. “Those who have no feelings one way or the other, you won’t hear from them.”

While all of the other dozen or so residents who spoke at the hearing advocated for allowing students taught at home and in private schools to join in intramural and nongraded activities, many of their reasons and arguments for doing so were often unique.

Hollis Hite said she sent two children, now grown, and a child she took guardianship of to small private schools. She paid for all the sports, lessons, martial arts and other activities her children took part in, which, she said, “some families just won’t have the financial ability to support.”

“Who knows what kind of star is out there, attending St. Stephen’s [School], or private school, or taught at home?“ she said. “Maybe the next tennis or other sports star is waiting to be found.”

Brian Griffin said his child graduated from Grand Island schools. Like many other speakers, he noted that every home pays taxes to the district and asked the board to consider their service to the taxpayers they serve.

The hearing, held in Veronica E. Connor Middle School, was called after a number of board meetings in which the Grand Island School Board weighed and debated a father’s request to allow his young children to participate in intramural sports. Only three board members attended Wednesday’s hearing — President Richard Little Jr., member Tom Franz and Vice President Jim Hanna, who served as moderator — to comply with public meetings laws, and they stated at the outset that they would not reply or answer questions.

There are 67 students taught at home and living within the Grand Island Central School District and about 444 attending private schools, according to school figures. Only Maryvale and Cheektowaga- Sloan schools allow outside students to take part in extracurricular activities in the nine-district Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services network.

Cohen, who voiced the lone objection to extending extracurricular programs, cautioned the board members that “we live in a litigious society,” and noted that programs offered by independent organizations and the town itself are open to children taught at home.

“What about injuries? Record-keeping? What about disciplinary procedures?” Cohen asked. “Is the district prepared to spend taxpayer money on any lawsuits that may arise?”

R.J. Wynne, the Grand Island resident who raised the issue in early January, said he was glad to hear other parents and residents speak on the topic and expects to see a decisive vote at the board’s next meeting March 31.