Because of rule, military daughter has to sit out

By ELISABETH HULETTE | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: October 16, 2012

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It's her senior year, and once again Brianna Mikeska has made First Colonial High School's varsity cheerleading squad and the gymnastics team.

But now the Virginia High School League has told her she can't participate.

The problem is that she spent much of last year in Japan after her father deployed with the military. She's back and living with family friends this year, but because of that absence, the league says, letting her stay on the team would break a rule designed to prevent students from shopping teams for the best spots.

To get a waiver, she has to show "undue hardship." And the VHSL says she hasn't.

"They don't see me having a hardship now, living here without my family," Mikeska said. "That's such a hardship. I don't have my mom and dad here, helping me fill out college applications.... I'm all alone."

Mikeska said she grew up in Virginia Beach and spent her first two years of high school at First Colonial. An avid gymnast since she was 7 or 8, she made the gymnastics and cheerleading teams.

Her father had always been in the military, but as long as she had been in school, he'd never deployed. It was a shock to Mikeska when she learned last year that she would be moving to a base in Japan, about 45 minutes by train from Tokyo.

According to a letter her mother, Ann Mikeska, sent to the VHSL executive committee, Brianna didn't take to Japan well. She was in a Department of Defense school located on Yokosuka Naval Base, where many of the courses she had been taking in Virginia Beach had no direct equivalent. The school had no honors courses and wouldn't let her take Advanced Placement classes instead, and she couldn't get into any foreign language courses.

"I saw my typically happy, outgoing and bubbly child withdraw, cry every day and pretty much turn into an emotional wreck," Ann Mikeska wrote.

Finally, the family decided to send her back. Friends in Virginia Beach offered to take her in so she could return to First Colonial — to her friends, her classes and her sports teams. To say it has been a hardship, Ann Mikeska wrote, is an understatement.

"Words cannot express how difficult it is on us to live apart from our youngest daughter during her last years of high school," she wrote. "It literally breaks my heart."

The Virginia High School League, an organization Virginia public schools join that sets rules for athletics, disagrees. Its "transfer rule" says students who switch schools without their parents moving have to wait a year to participate in extracurricular activities. According to VHSL documents, it's designed to "encourage students to live with their parents and be enrolled in school continuously in their home school district."

The Mikeskas applied for a waiver, but the organization denied it based on grounds that the criteria were not met and "an undue hardship was not identified," according to documents. An official from the VHSL did not return calls seeking comment.

To Christy McAnally, a Virginia Beach teacher helping Mikeska, the case is an example of where flexibility should have been granted to a military child under an interstate compact. States that sign on — including Virginia — are supposed to be flexible with military families who change schools often and run into trouble with credit transfers and curriculum rules.

The VHSL doesn't seem to be doing that in Mikeska's case, she said.

"I just can't imagine why," said McAnally, whose Change.org petition for Mikeska had more than 2,200 signatures Monday. "What is it that we're missing here?"

Melissa Luchau, military family education liaison for the Virginia Department of Education, said in an email that the compact does not have authority over private, nonprofit organizations, like the VHSL. Norman Arflack, executive director of the Interstate Commission on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, said when it comes to sports, the compact usually deals with military students who transfer midyear and miss tryout dates.

"The compact does deal with extracurricular activity, so obviously we would be interested in dealing with" Mikeska's case, he said. But he'd have to learn more.

"It's a little bit of a unique twist," he said.

The Mikeskas are appealing the VHSL's decision again. The hearing is Oct. 24. In the meantime, Brianna said, First Colonial's cheerleading team is getting ready for a big competition on Saturday.

She'll be sitting on the sidelines.



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