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The Utah Board of Education walked back three months of debate over transfer rules for student-athletes on Monday, effectively repealing a new policy adopted in December.

Board members have debated transfer rules since September, including various proposals to eliminate or loosen restrictions on athletes switching teams. Those proposals generated significant resistance, including near-unanimous opposition from school administrators and prep sports representatives.

But in a debate Monday, board members determined that their priorities — student privacy, appellate procedures, clear transfer guidelines for families — could be achieved through a combination of existing policies, state law and collaboration with the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), which oversees extracurricular programs, including athletics.

The board exercised the equivalent of a pocket veto Monday, allowing the more controversial elements of its new rules to expire without taking formal action.

"We don't need a whole separate rule," said board member Jennifer Graviet. "We don't need to have the redundancy."

The issue of transfer rules was raised in September, when the school board debated a policy that would prohibit public schools from joining the UHSAA unless the association abandoned its restrictions on student-athletes switching teams.

Those restrictions were seen by some school board members as contradictory to Utah's open enrollment laws, which allow students to enroll at any time in any public school that has available room.

The athlete community objected, citing concerns like inappropriate recruiting and a decline in sportsmanship through the proliferation of dynasty programs or star athletes abandoning their teammates due to losing records or bench time.

The association's leaders also questioned the need for the state school board to insert itself into the governance of extracurricular sports in lieu of UHSAA's board of trustees, which is composed of representatives from member schools.

The school board dropped its transfer rules in September, instead voting for a policy that required coaches to be trained on the prevention of bullying and sexual abuse.

But in December — with the majority of the elected board members scheduled to be replaced in January — the policy was revised to mandate the creation of an appellate body and allow unlimited transfers at the subvarsity level.

"Maybe we overstepped a little bit," board member Joel Wright said Monday. "But that is because [the UHSAA] did not collaborate very well."

After new school board members were sworn in, the December revisions were put on hold while lawmakers debated HB413 — a bill that would create an appellate body for the UHSAA, place the association under Utah's open meetings and records act, and trim the association's board from 32 members to 15.

Lawmakers approved the bill, which awaits the governor's consideration.

Because the school board had voted to hold its revisions, it would need to approve a reinstatement before May 1 to implement the changes. The full board is not scheduled to meet before that deadline passes.

The board considered a full repeal of the policy, including the initial version approved in September, but that measure was one vote shy of passage.

Board member Carol Lear said Monday that the policy was "conceived in a vacuum" and argued that it would be better to start from scratch.

"I have an aversion to the rule, right from the beginning," Lear said. "I think the appropriate thing to do is repeal it."

But other board members, like Spencer Stokes, said it would be best to keep the initial elements intact until issues like student privacy could be dealt with in other areas of school board policy.

"These things can be addressed in other rules, but they aren't," Stokes said. "Until they are, I think that we ought to leave them here."

Rob Cuff, the UHSAA's executive director, said the association's board is considering changes to its bylaws, including the size of its board of trustees and a series of criteria for permitted athlete transfers.

He said those criteria — like the relocation of a student's family, a change in guardianship or incidents of bullying at a student's original school — would likely mirror some of the changes suggested by the Board of Education.

"We'll look at it item by item," Cuff said of the repealed policy. "Our board has already moved forward in trying to govern ourselves in a way that is member driven."

Twitter: @bjaminwood

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