D.C. charter schools still play by their own rules on the basketball court

The Washington Post's Alan Goldenbach goes behind the scenes with the IDEA Public Charter School girls' basketball team, which plays its games in a "COSTCO-like" atmosphere and appears to be missing a true high school sports experience.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 19, 2010

Toward the end of his sophomore year at Randallstown High in suburban Baltimore two years ago, Brandon Young started looking for a new school. He had been a reserve guard on a successful team that regularly contended for a state title, but with the coach leaving and Young struggling academically, he was hoping for a fresh start.

Upon the suggestion of his travel team coach, Young drove to Washington to work out for Clinton Crouch, the coach of Friendship Collegiate, a D.C. public charter school. Young had never heard of Friendship and, as a student living outside of the District, should not have been allowed to attend the school without paying more than $10,000 in tuition.

But as Young and his mother found out, where he lived mattered less than whether he could play.

"He had to go out and perform for him [Crouch] to see if he really could do what he said he could do," said Tracey Bailey, Young's mother, with whom he lived while attending Randallstown.

At most of the District's charter schools, sports are little more than an afterthought. However, a few are seeking to use athletics to increase their enrollments and raise their profiles, and with little to no oversight, they are able to skirt residency and eligibility rules that govern other high schools in the area.

Introduced in 1997 to expand families' educational options in the District, charter schools have doubled in enrollment over the past four years, and according to enrollment figures released by D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Public Charter School Board, 38 percent of those receiving public education in the city are in charter schools. D.C. charter schools received $8,770 in public funds for each student this academic year; non-residents wishing to attend could pay $10,377 in tuition for the 2009-10 school year.

Like several players who previously lived in Maryland and now play basketball at Friendship and the Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers, Young took action to attempt to satisfy the residency requirement. Some players moved in with relatives or friends in the District and use their residences as home addresses. Young moved in with Crouch and his wife in Landover.

Neither tactic adequately satisfies the District's residency requirements -- students must live with a parent or legal guardian who pays taxes in the District -- but because schools such as Friendship, KIMA and Cesar Chavez are operating their boys' basketball teams as independents, they are free from restrictions from any central authority. Residency is just one issue; some rosters include players competing in their fifth high school season.

"Even though public charters are public schools, we operate like private schools. We make our own rules," said KIMA Coach Levet Brown, whose team is part of an eight-team tournament starting Saturday on the campus of Gallaudet University that includes public schools such as Friendship and Chavez, as well as private schools, such as Princeton Day and Progressive Christian.

Maryland imports

City auditors are supposed to annually inspect public school enrollments to ensure that students live with tax-paying parents or guardians, but an examination of the Friendship (24-5) and KIMA (30-10) rosters showed many players who previously lived in Maryland with their parents but moved to attend the D.C. charter schools. It also revealed players whose eligibility had expired, according to guidelines of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and DCPS.

All of the nine players who see significant court time for KIMA's varsity previously attended a public or private school in Maryland, including five who previously went to school in Baltimore. Four players said they moved from one parent's house to the other so that they could live in Washington and attend KIMA. Senior guard Jada Johnson moved in with his grandmother, who in turn told him about the school. Junior forward Juwan Newman, whose mother lives in Baltimore, often stays with Brown, who lives in Howard County, or one of the team's assistant coaches.

Nearly all of Friendship's players attended other schools before transferring, including seven who previously attended schools in Prince George's County. Five players repeated an academic year after transferring to Friendship. Chavez, which became an independent before this season, brought back its star player after he was named one of the Washington Charter School Athletic Association's players of the year in 2008-09 -- as a senior.

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