Disqualified Ward Melville Science Olympiad Team Strives to Change Unfair Policy

Disqualified Ward Melville Science Olympiad Team Strives to Change Unfair Policy

By Sapna Nath and Ramya Rao, Editors

Ward Melville’s Science Olympiad team was disqualified from this weekend’s New York State Science Olympiad Competition. The team, consisting of fifteen students and fifteen alternates, is disheartened at the unfortunate turn of events that resulted in its disqualification because of a registration policy. However, the students have put their efforts into ensuring that the New York State policy which disqualified them will be repealed so that no school has to undergo the same difficulty.

Ward Melville’s Science Olympiad team has an extremely impressive resume at the regional, state, and national level. Last year, the team won first place at the state tournament and fifth place at the national tournament, a tournament consisting of 120 of the nation’s best science teams. This year the team hosted and won first place at the Eastern Long Island Regional Tournament.

After their impressive regional victory, the Ward Melville state team was preparing to defend its state title this weekend at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, NY. The team’s coaches sent out the one hundred and fifty dollar fee required for the team to participate in the competition. However, a snow storm caused the check’s mailing to be delayed until after February break. Subsequently, an administrative oversight caused the school’s business office to fail to send the check until the day of the deadline, February 28.

The New York State Science Olympiad had established a practice of notifying teams if their paperwork was not received or completed. On Sunday, February 23, the New York State Science Olympiad director,  Harold Miller, successfully contacted twenty-seven head coaches of teams whose paperwork was not complete. But unfortunately for Ward Melville, Mr. Miller never contacted the team’s head coach. Instead, he called the team’s retired coach, who was marked as a coach for the school’s second team at the regional competition.

Ward Melville High School was allowed to register three teams–team one, team two, and team three–for competition at the regional level. However, only one team could be registered for the state and national competitions. The head coaches for the Ward Melville team were listed under team one, which was the team that would compete at the state and national tournament. The retired coach, who was out of state at the time of the phone call, only received the message after the team was disqualified. The next time the team was contacted was to notify that it had been disqualified.

Because Ward Melville’s team had not been fairly warned about the late payment as the other teams had, the team felt the decision unfair and consequently appealed to the New York State Science Olympiad Board. The board also knew that the Ward Melville team was coming to the tournament because they had already signed up for events.

Subsequently, the team tried to contact many other Science Olympiad officials, such as Mr. Glen Cochrane, the Regional Coordinator for Science Olympiad in Eastern Long Island and Dr. Gerald Putz, the founder and national director of Science Olympiad. Both called the state’s board of directors and requested the Mr. Miller remove this policy and let Ward Melville’s team compete. However, both these calls were unsuccessful. Ward Melville’s coaches, principal, and school superintendent also called Mr. Miller to apologize for the late payment and ask him to reconsider his decision.

Mr. Miller agreed to discuss the team’s participation status once again with his board of directors at the end of last week. The board once again ruled that Ward Melville’s original disqualification status should hold, because the school’s documents had listed an incorrect head coach. However, the paperwork that the board was referring to, when faxed back to the school, clearly stated “Team Two” numerous times.

Regardless of the results this year, the team has now turned to changing this registration policy as its top priority. The team gave the statement, “Although we are disappointed that we were not able to compete at states this year, far more important to us is that we continue to work towards changing the policy that that resulted in our disqualification. We never want to see another team go through what we went through, and we’re proud of our SciO family for responding to this in such a constructive way. We believe that Science Olympiad is about science and education, not about paperwork. While we acknowledge that the error originated in our district, our district personnel have owned up and apologized, and are doing everything they can to ensure that something like this never befalls anyone again. We hope to see the  same intention for change from NYSSO.”

Senior team member Nevena Marinkovic stated, “We’re going to jump back in there to change that late registration rule, because it’s not about just us anymore – it’s about New York State.”

The team has started an online petition to preclude this from happening again to any other team in the future. The petition has been signed by other Ward Melville students, other competing Science Olympiad coaches and team members, and by parents and educators all across the country. People around the nation have shown support for the Ward Melville team, leaving comments about the injustice of the situation. The petition has almost 3,000 signatures of people in favor of a rule change saying that the rule is not in the spirit of Science Olympiad and that student’s should not be punished for paperwork. After all, a rule is only as good as the reasons behind it.

“It’s really heartbreaking to see something the team works so hard for the entire year taken away even though the students were without fault. We’re not competing, and even though it’s devastating for all of us we’re going to take the higher road and be graceful and supportive of the other teams, because that’s what SciO is about. However, our petition and efforts to change the policy remains ongoing — we don’t want other teams to go through what we had to go through ever,” commented junior team member Hannah Yen.

While the team is upset at the situation, it is grateful for all the support the district has provided. This past week, Ward Melville’s state team has met with Newsday, News 12, CBS News, and Fox News, each of which has run articles on the school’s disqualification and more importantly, why the team feels the rule needs to be changed.

To visit and sign the online petition formed by the team, please see: http://jakewelde.com/petition

For more information about Science Olympiad please see: http://www.soinc.org/