By STEVEN NALLEY
County and state school officials confirmed Tuesday that the athletics programs at both West and East Oktibbeha County high schools are now ineligible for out-of-conference play, including playoffs, because of the school district’s recent accreditation withdrawal.
Mississippi Department of Education policy also shows the withdrawal affects cheerleading, drill, dance, speech, debate, choral and band programs, allowing them to participate in district or state contests but preventing them from receiving ratings.
Patrice Guilfoyle, Mississippi Department of Education communications director, said the Mississippi Commission on School Accreditation formally withdrew the Oktibbeha County School District’s accreditation during a specially called meeting Oct. 23.
MDE began the takeover when Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in the district Sept. 28.
“At the end of that process at its next scheduled meeting, the commission on accreditation formally put into the record that the accreditation had been withdrawn. That is typically what happens when the state takes over a district,” Guilfoyle said. “It’s just that the commission withdrew it in this special meeting, just to be clear, because there have been some questions regarding it.”
OCSD Conservator Jayne Sargent said the accreditation loss prevents both the WOCHS and EOCHS athletic programs from participating in playoffs or any other non-conference play. The decision took effect immediately, Sargent said, and she received notice by phone Thursday.
“That means any football games they have that are conference games, they can (still) play,” Sargent said. “That’s the same thing with basketball ... that’s the same thing with track; that’s the same thing with every competitive sport.”
The West Oktibbeha Timberwolves had qualified for the playoffs with their 6-1 record in Class A, Region 3, District 4. West Oktibbeha, which closes the regular season at Pelahatchie Friday night, has an 8-2 overall mark.
West Oktibbeha football coach Adam Lowrey said it is his understanding right now that the Timberwolves will not be participating in the playoffs, but there is an appeal process underway. He said people were planning to meet Tuesday evening to sign a petition to appeal the ruling, but he did not specify who was organizing the petition.
Guilfoyle said the OCSD cannot regain its accreditation until its conservatorship is over, preventing an appeal process.
“Regarding a petition, once a district’s in conservatorship, they would have to satisfy the requirements to be taken out of conservatorship,” Guilfoyle said. “There’s no other hearing to be had.”
The East Oktibbeha Titans have struggled to a 2-8 overall record and a 1-6 Class A, Region 3, District 4 record. The Titans host senior night against Weir on Friday.
West Oktibbeha and East Oktibbeha were set to begin the basketball seasons next week.
East Oktibbeha coach Ray Brooks did not comment on the status of athletics with his program, but he did say, “We’re planning on having senior night Friday night.”
Guilfoyle also emailed an excerpt from Mississippi’s public school accountability standards with further details about accreditation loss’s impact on a school district. The excerpt says such districts cannot participate in more than 50 percent of the regular season of any interscholastic activity, including division, district and regional sports.
“The interscholastic season schedule for a school or schools within a district shall not include the opening day of (the) season or any type of post-season participation, as determined by the office of accreditation,” the excerpt said. “Cheerleading, drill and dance squads, speech and debate, choral music and band may participate in district or state (contests) but shall not be eligible to receive ratings.”
Finally, the excerpt says parents or guardians of children enrolled in a district that loses accreditation can file written petitions for legal transfer to accredited districts, and Mississippi code allows the commission on school accreditation to grant the transfer.
Sports editor Danny P. Smith contributed to this report.