The Skaneateles (N.Y.) Central School District Board of Education drew a full house to its meeting Tuesday and heard testimony for two girls questioning a district athletic policy put in place since last summer to determine if middle school students are physically mature enough to compete in sports at the high school level.
According to The Citizen of Auburn, N.Y., four students were recently determined to not have reached the physical maturity requirements of junior varsity lacrosse by Gail Keenen, the district medical examiner and a family practitioner. Twenty people spoke at the meeting during two comment periods.
Kathryn Morrissey said her score on the Tanner Scale — a physical maturity assessment — had prevented her from trying out for junior varsity lacrosse.
"I had two exams given after school to evaluate my Tanner score. The first exam was focused on one thing. The only question the doctor asked me: 'Do you have your period?' That was it. That was all she asked about my body," Morrissey told the board. A second exam determined her body mass index.
Morrissey said she hadn't had her period yet, but felt that question and her body mass index were the deciding factors in whether she could try out or not. She said her body mass index was determined to be two points too low. "So I'm just confused," she said. "Because for a girl like me, people are telling me to stay active, that it's a good thing to be tall. I need to be skinny and be athletic. It's a great thing to be fit. So I'm just confused, because being fit is now a bad thing. What message do you think this is sending to girls? All girls being put through this process, and being examined and judged in uncomfortable ways. It just doesn't feel good and it's not right."
She said she "learned that a policy can prevent me from my dreams, even when I've done my best." Kathryn became so overcome with tears that her mother, Kathleen Morrissey, finished reading her daughter's statement, The Citizen reported.
"I would like to ask one question," said another student, Ella Bobbett. "What does our physical maturity have to do with our ability to play lacrosse? Because this is the way we are. We can't do anything to change how tall we are, when we begin our menstrual cycle, how much we weigh. We have no control over this."
"The effect that this has had on all of us — every single one of us — has been heartbreaking," a teafull Bobbett added. "So heartbreaking that it's really hard to put it into words, but I believe as a school and as a community and really, as a family, we can fix this. We can fix this for our community and for our athletic program and for our school."
Before the public comments, the district said any questions about district personnel, including the medical director, would not be permitted, The Citizen reported. Superintendent Lynda Quick also introduced Kristine Lanchantin, a partner at the Girvin & Ferlazzo PC law firm in Albany, "who is representing the district in this matter," Quick said, adding that the district had received litigation threats, so Lanchantin was "safeguarding the district from liability and future obligations, so she is here to address any legal concerns or issues as deemed necessary."
The clearance policy, which the district says complies with the state policy, determines if a student has a physical development level that may minimize the possibility that the student will hurt themselves while playing the sport and at the level they are being evaluated for. The state instructs the medical director to factor in the student's height, weight, muscle mass and rating under the Tanner Scale compared to the other athletes that students would be competing against.
Some community members at Tuesday's meeting said they felt the policies unfairly targeted girls over boys, but Quick disputed that in a statement Wednesday. Though the Tanner Scale numbers are different for boys and girls, Quick said that is due to the timing of maturity between the two. She said this is explained in the state's guidelines, and parents who don't agree with the numbers used or the process should address their concerns with the state Education Department.