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Schools taking a closer look at student transfers

By Sarah Nagem
snagem@salisburypost.com
School systems across the state face the same challenge: How can school leaders be sure that students who ask to transfer to a different school don’t want to switch just to play sports there?
The Rowan-Salisbury School System is making moves to deter students and parents from avoiding the rules of transfers.
School leaders have received as many as 15 tips from people this year that say ineligible students are playing high school sports in Rowan County, said Dr. Walter Hart, assistant superintendent for administration.
The system is setting up a committee to reconsider schools’ handling practices when it comes to athletic eligibility.
When accusations of ineligibility, often in the form of anonymous callers, come across his desk, Hart sometimes orders a home visit to the student. But that puts a lot of demand on staff members, who are asked to figure out if families are telling the truth about where they live ó and where their kids can attend school.
“It’s harder to determine than most people realize,” Hart said.
Students can transfer schools for two reasons.
A family could move into another attendance zone, which means kids would change schools.
Or, families can ask the school system for permission for students to attend school outside their zone if certain issues arise, like child care or a hardship.
In the second scenario, a transfer committee reviews the case. If that group denies the transfer, parents have the option of appealing their case to the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.
Usually, it’s a fairly smooth process.
“(But) sports can complicate things,” Hart said.
Students aren’t allowed to transfer schools simply because they want to be involved in a particular school’s athletics program.
If they do transfer, they have to wait a year to play sports at their new school.
But parents sometimes find ways around the rules. Accusations have included claims that people report false addresses to the school system, Hart said.
When students transfer, he said, school principals ask parents to verify their new address by presenting documents like rental agreements or utility bills.
Accusers allege that families have rented apartments in different attendance zones and leave them unoccupied just to have a proof of residence, Hart said.
It’s hard for the school system to keep track of what’s really happening.
“Shy of having a detective going out watching people 24/7, there’s going to be people who ó bottom line ó lie to school officials,” Hart said.
The athletic eligibility committee will be made up of high school principals and athletic directors, school board members and people from the community, he said.
The group will look at ways the school system can keep an eye on transfers.
“I want this committee to be some kind of watchdog,” said Dr. Jim Emerson, school board chairman.
When community members suspect students have gone to a new school just for sports, he wants them to contact committee members.
He also wants the group to check students’ residency documentation, enforce school policies and dispel rumors.
“We know some issues will have to come to the board with appeals,” Emerson said. “We’re not trying to avoid our responsibilities. But we know some people are not truthful.”
Hart said the committee will meet for the first time this fall.
The group could decide to change the transfer policy. A new rule could allow students to attend any school they want, regardless of where they live. Or no one could be allowed to switch schools, unless their families move.
“I’m not sure that either of those is where we want to go at this point,” Hart said.
Open enrollment could lead to “sports schools,” he said. Students could gravitate to certain areas just for athletics.
But Hart said something needs to be done. He does not have enough staff members to keep tabs on every suspicion.
He hopes this new committee will help.
“It also sends a pretty clear signal to the public that we’re not taking this lightly. … We want people to play fair with this,” Hart said.

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