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Most Utah high schools reject proposed athlete transfer rules

FILE: Utah high schools voted 131 to 5 against the State School Board's involvement in governing high school activities and athletics, and voted 128-8 against a proposed transfer rule that could be ratified Friday by the board.
FILE: Utah high schools voted 131 to 5 against the State School Board's involvement in governing high school activities and athletics, and voted 128-8 against a proposed transfer rule that could be ratified Friday by the board.
Deseret News

MIDVALE — It seems an overwhelming majority of high schools don’t support a rule governing the transfer of student athletes that is likely to be passed by the Utah State Board of Education Friday.

“I don’t think they have the support across the state in the actual schools that would have to abide by this rule,” said Kristen Betts, the chairwoman of the Utah High School Activities Association board of trustees. “And so if they could just wait, in fact, the new board (because of recent elections), may change their minds on this rule because of what their schools are telling them.”

The State School Board asked the association's board of trustees to poll all 149 member schools to see if they support a proposed board rule that would change the restrictions on student athletes transferring from one school to another. In a letter to members of the board, the trustees said 128 schools voted against the proposed rule with just eight voting in support of it.

The trustees also asked schools if they support the board’s decision to try and write policy governing high school athletics — a responsibility that’s belonged solely to the association since 1927. To that question, 131 schools voted against the State School Board’s involvement in “governing extracurricular activities,” while five voted in favor of it.

“Both board actions are so overwhelmingly unpopular, with all schools, that it calls for re-examination of the proposed rules and the sudden change in the long-standing and excellent relationship between the association and the board,” the letter said. “The schools are standing and yelling, ‘Stop!’”

The letter outlines three areas of concern.

“All of the proposed rules contain significant flaws that will create difficulty in enforcement,” the letter states. “The association has repeatedly explained that the proposed rules are vague, ambiguous, incomplete and difficult to enforce. Those criticisms have met with another vague response, that these ‘rules’ are merely a ‘shell’ in which the association is expected to conduct the serious business of student eligibility.”

It points out that the proposed transfer rule “will certainly harm small, rural schools in the 1A, 2A and 3A classification. It will permit students from larger schools who cannot play varsity to move immediately to smaller schools and upend any competitive balance. The recruiting rule will hamper the already difficult task of gathering evidence to prove and enforce a recruiting violation.”

Second, the letter said, “The interests of one school have unduly influenced the process.”

“These new rules have a disturbing antecedent,” the letter said. “In April and May of 2016, a charter school (Summit Academy) was found to have violated the association’s recruiting rule. This same rule the board now wants to write and manage.”

The letter details sanctions imposed on Summit Academy after it was determined a former assistant coach violated recruiting rules. After several students were denied eligibility in transferring to Summit Academy in August, the letter said school officials “then made threats that if the association did not grant eligibility to all the school’s transfers, it would take steps to loosen the transfer rule and destroy the association.”

This effort, the letter asserts, is the manifestation of that threat.

“Not surprisingly, only one public school voted in favor of the board’s actions to control high school activities,” the letter said.

Third, the trustees’ letter said the Utah Legislature has directed that matters such as extracurricular activities be left to local districts, not the Utah State Board of Education.

The Utah High School Activities Association is made up of local schools. They’re represented by its two governing bodies — the executive committee, which is comprised of principals, and the board of trustees, which is made up of elected school board members, superintendents and principals.

The letter asks the state board to respect the will of those local boards they represent.

“The association and its member schools ask that the board pause and reconsider these hurried rules that have generated overwhelming opposition among Utah’s school districts and public high schools,” the letter says.

The trustees voted to send the letter to the board members Thursday night. They also voted unanimously to appeal the adoption of any rules governing high school sports, which they can do 30 days after they have been approved.