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The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Matt Breen; Inquirer Staff Writer

Dan Jackson, boys' basketball coach at Math, Civics and Sciences Charter School, said he was outraged Tuesday when his school's athletic director showed him a post on Twitter.

This was not anything he or athletic director Lonnie Diggs had talked about. Jackson said they were blindsided.

The news had spread quickly from Harrisburg. The PIAA, the state's governing body of high school sports, wants to limit charter schools' use of city players.

Robert Lombardi, the PIAA's executive director, proposed legislation that would require charter-school students to play their sports at neighborhood public schools. A student could play for a charter school only if that sport was not offered by a neighborhood school, according to the proposal. Most, if not all, sports offered by a charter school are already offered by neighborhood schools.

Under that scenario, Jackson's players could attend Math, Civics and Sciences but would play basketball at their neighborhood schools. Unlike neighborhood schools, Philadelphia charter schools can draw students from throughout the city.

"I think they're trying to take a shot at what we have accomplished in the PIAA," Jackson said. "And I honestly don't think it's fair."

Lombardi said the legislation resulted from complaints from PIAA members throughout the state. Those complaints, he said, started three to four years ago. They grew as Philadelphia's charter schools continued to dominate the PIAA basketball tournament.

Philadelphia charter schools have combined to win seven state boys' basketball titles since 2006. All but one was in Class A and AA, PIAA's smallest-enrollment classifications.

Imhotep Charter, in West Oak Lane, has won four titles. Andre Noble, Imhotep's athletic director and boys' basketball coach, declined comment.

The legislation also would remove charter schools from the Public League, which they joined in 2004. If that happened, Jackson and Diggs said they would create a charter-school league or play as independents. Charter schools have won five of the last eight Public League titles.

Math, Civics and Sciences CEO Veronica Joyner said she planned to file a complaint Wednesday with the state's Human Relations Commission. Joyner questioned why the PIAA targeted charter schools, where she said the students are mostly African American, and not Catholic schools.

In 2010, Joyner filed a complaint that her boys' basketball team was subject to racial discrimination during a state playoff game. Both parties came to an agreement out of court.

"Who are they to discriminate against African American children?" Joyner said.

Melissa Mertz, the PIAA's associate executive director, said it is "absolutely not a race issue by any means."

The public hearing in Harrisburg lasted about 90 minutes in front of the state's Athletic Oversight Committee. Lombardi said the rule would require a change to the state's charter-school law.

The hearing did not include discussion of Philadelphia's archdiocesan high schools, which can draw students from outside the state yet compete for the same state titles as public schools.

"A lot of people are attending those on religious beliefs," Lombardi said. "They went through a feeder school system for religious education through their high school years. So that's different. That's not an issue today."

The future of the legislation is in the hands of the committee, Lombardi said. State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks) is the committee's chairman.

mbreen@phillynews.com

April 2, 2014

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