New law will have little effect on sports
Open enrollment isn't a new concept for Oregon, but it certainly will be for the Rogue Valley sports scene when a new state law takes effect in January for the 2012-13 school year.
The Oregon Legislature passed the law in this year's session to give families more options when choosing schools that best fit their children. Those choices, however, won't spill over to athletic pursuits, according to Tom Welter, executive director of the Oregon School Activities Association.
Welter said the OSAA initially met with its attorneys and members of the Legislature and expressed concern over open enrollment and he's comfortable that the new law won't alter business as usual.
"The legislative council opinion that we received indicated that there's nothing in the new law that would usurp any of the current OSAA transfer rules," Welter said Monday.
"Right now, it's our intention that our transfer rules will remain unchanged even given the language of the new law," he added. "You have to provide all educational services in the language of the rule, but courts at the state and federal level say participation in athletics and extra-curricular activities is a privilege and not a right."
Translation: Even though your son or daughter is a budding star, you cannot put your child in a certain school to potentially heighten their athletic visibility.
The eligibility of students transferring between school districts in Oregon for athletic activities, cheerleading and dance/drill is governed by the OSAA. Its fundamental rule regarding such transfers is that, to participate in activities covered by the OSAA, a student must attend the high school in the attendance boundary in which the joint residence of the student and the student's parents is located.
There are a series of exceptions to the fundamental rule for public school students but none involve athletic programs. Most of that, according to Welter, stems from the OSAA's desire to maintain a level playing field.
"It's one thing to have open enrollment as freshmen but we are opposed to it afterward because most of the time it's not for educational purposes," said Welter.
Welter said one logical fear is, for example, a group of five elite basketball players get familiar with one another during summer circuit play and decide to attend the same school. Such a move would upset competitive balance, not to mention displace five players already in the program.
"We think the current rules we have in place do a good job in preventing that," said Welter. "And on the surface, that's exactly what you worry about with open enrollment."
On the local level, the athletic directors at North Medford and South Medford high schools each said they don't anticipate much change in conjunction with the new law given their association with the OSAA.
"We don't see it changing things," said South Medford AD Dennis Murphy. "The law doesn't say you're athletically eligible. The law says you can go to school, but you're not necessarily athletically eligible."
Southern Oregon Hybrid athletic directors got together last Wednesday and the open-enrollment law was a topic of conversation, with more questions than answers, according to North Medford AD Tim Sam.
Further examination has cleared up some areas, including one important thing for Medford fans.
"The law does not affect intra-district transfers," said Sam, meaning the traditional transfer rules still will apply for those wishing to go from North to South or South to North.
Superintendent Phil Long has expressed concern that the law will pit districts against districts and families against families, and Sam doesn't disagree. Marketing of what each school has to offer will likely be on the uptick, but there's a fine line when it comes to athletics and the OSAA's policy on undue influence.
"Coaches, faculty, administration, booster club members "… they can't go out and actively recruit," said Sam.
Such misdoings would lead to permanent ineligibility for the athlete, said Welter, as well as sanctions for the school committing indiscretions.
Given the perks that come with allowing transfers into a district — to the tune of about $6,000 per student and the possibility of hiring more teachers to lessen class size — it's unlikely that area districts won't embrace the new law. Districts, however, must notify the state by March 1 the number of students it could accept, based on a transfer cap of 3 percent of total enrollment. Should the number of requests exceed that cap — and requests must be in by April — students will be chosen by a lottery.
Sam said he and his peers expect an increase in eligibility transfer requests, commonly referred to as hardship requests.
"I think we want to get the word out that the school would be the gatekeeper for those requests but, at the same time, the message is clear there has to be a hardship to go through, just not a choice where the family would like their son or daughter to attend," said Sam.
EXCEPTIONS TO the OSAA's rule for eligibility come in many shapes and sizes, said Welter.
One little-known fact is that freshmen have enjoyed open enrollment for years. Welter said if you enter a public school as a ninth grader, you are immediately eligible and maintain that eligibility so long as you don't do anything to break the continuity of that eligibility.
Issues are easier to overcome if the district a student resides in is willing to release that student to another district, but Sam said not all incoming transfer requests are approved. Everything is done on a case-by-case basis, and even approval by both districts doesn't mean the OSAA will accept that ruling, although the body's rubber-stamping rate is in the 90th percentile, said Sam.
Should a student choose to transfer but be deemed athletically ineligible by the OSAA, that ruling would only last for one school year. That means a student who transfers at the beginning of their sophomore year, for example, but is denied eligibility by the OSAA, would become eligible to play sports at the school when their junior year rolled around.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry