An alert grandparent of a Payson High School athlete has sent the school district scurrying back to the drawing board to rewrite its rules of conduct for students participating in athletics and other school activities.
Ted Pettet, grandfather of PHS star athlete Waylon Pettet, hired an attorney to look into the legality of the behavior contracts students must sign before being allowed on sports teams, the cheerleading squad, the marching band and other activities.
Pettet took action following a hearing on his grandson's athletic eligibility after a group of students were caught allegedly drinking at a party in November.
"You and I can't go down to (the courthouse) and get a kid's record, and yet when I went into that meeting, here was (PHS Athletic Director Dave) Bradley, three or four coaches, a couple of teachers and a bunch of parents," Pettet said. "It was probably one of the most embarrassing things I have ever had to do. I just couldn't believe this was happening in our country. These people were breaking so many laws, and were they really there for the good of the kid?"
Pettet hired who he felt was the best attorney in the state to look into the policy of having students and parents sign a contract agreeing not to drink, do drugs, or do anything else that might reflect badly on them, the team or the school. He gave the lawyer a $7,500 retainer.
"I didn't do it to put the school system in jeopardy," Pettet said. "I've lived here 45 years. My goal was to change the process that we do to our kids."
Pettet said it didn't take the attorney long to find major problems with the school's policy, and the district's attorney readily agreed.
"First of all, their own lawyer told them they were violating the federal privacy act," Pettet said. "Everybody has a right to privacy. That's a big issue today. They can't have outside people come in and make these kinds of decisions and know the kids' records."
A second problem, the lawyers discovered, involved a state statute dealing with a school's jurisdiction.
"When a kid leaves home on his way to school or on his way to an activity, while he's at that activity and until he walks through the door of his home, the school has jurisdiction," Pettet said. "But once he gets home, the school's jurisdiction is over. They have been penalizing kids for getting in trouble even in the summertime."
A third issue involved discrimination. While PHS has a policy for students who participate in sports and activities, it doesn't have one for students who don't.
"Now they're going to nail you for discrimination against the kids who choose to be in band and athletics," Pettet said.
Bradley confirmed Pettet's analysis, and said the district's lawyer is working on a new approach that will allow PHS to apply conduct standards legally.
"We have a discipline policy and a situation occurred and the rules were being challenged and our lawyer felt our rules, as they were written, were unsupportable," Bradley said. "So we are rewriting them with (the attorney's) help so they can be applicable to the situations we need to deal with."
Payson Unified School District Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said many other schools have been challenged on similar policies, and all of them were forced to make changes.
"The way our rules were written, and many schools have written them the same way, would not hold up in court," Weissenfels said. "It wasn't favoritism (because of Waylon Pettet's athletic ability). The fact is, they were right and we were wrong."
Pettet also scoffed at the notion that favoritism was involved.
"Some people are trying to make this into a big deal -- that it's because a superstar (was involved)," he said. "I'm sorry, it's because they finally got caught by someone who said, ‘Wait a minute, this is not the way we operate in the United States of America.' It just happened that Waylon is my grandson."
Besides, Pettet made it clear that basketball players and other athletes can still be penalized for conduct detrimental to the team.
"I help coach the basketball team," he said. "Both the boys' and girls' coaches asked me to talk to their teams. I said, ‘Your coaches' training rules still hold up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and if you break them, they can kick you off the team. This doesn't excuse you to do things you shouldn't be doing.'"