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No Ruling in Sight for Homeless Teen's Eligibility Fight

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Copyright 2015 Record Searchlight
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Record Searchlight (Redding, California)

Basketball season may be almost over before an official decides whether a formerly homeless teen can play for Trinity High School in this, his final year.

A review of Zach Sanchez's unusual case by the Shasta Cascade League (SCL) Wednesday didn't offer the fifth-year senior the support he was seeking. Northern Section California Interscholastic Federation Commissioner Liz Kyle, who now gets the case, said she doesn't believe there's a deadline for her decision and she's unsure when she'll make one.

She then added she expects to follow the normal student eligibility deadline of 20 business days. There are 21 business days left until the final date of the regular basketball season, which ends Feb. 20. Sanchez has so far missed all 13 of Trinity's games this season.

Sanchez's case has attracted attention beyond the small North State community where he now lives with a foster family. Believing he's been treated unfairly after the loss of his mother to cancer and a period of homelessness, the National Center for Youth Law has written a letter to Kyle urging her to let Sanchez play.

Sanchez applied for athletic eligibility with a hardship waiver after enrolling at Trinity High School over the summer. He attended Liberty Christian Schools in Redding as a freshman, but the instability of living with his biological father following his mother's death caused him to attend sporadically, the letter said.

Before the season, the league had cleared Sanchez to play, although Kyle still had to review the decision for approval. That 5-1 vote was cast Nov. 10. League members determined Sanchez "suffered greatly from his mother's death," according to the letter to Kyle and Trinity Alps Unified School District Superintendent Tom Barnett from the National Center for Youth Law.

But Barnett revoked the eligibility Nov. 20, the letter said. He explained his decision in part, the letter said, because Sanchez's application contained an inaccurate date of death for his mother.

The league officials who met Wednesday could not approve or deny Sanchez's waiver because they could not verify whether federal law supersedes CIF bylaws, according to the league's minutes.

Officials needed an interpretation of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The act details how schools are required to immediately enroll homeless children and youths, "even if the child or youth is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment," the youth law center letter states.

In the minutes, league members voted 4-1 to forward the decision on Sanchez's hardship waiver to the Northern Section CIF, but with a negative recommendation. The meeting minutes note Sanchez ran away from his father April 1, 2012, becoming homeless.

The league cites a CIF bylaw that would make Sanchez ineligible for a hardship waiver because his grades were too low immediately prior to becoming homeless.

Now, Kyle must decide either to accept the hardship waiver and Sanchez play this season or reject it and give a reason. Sanchez could then appeal the rejection - making the timing of Kyle's decision and the length of the season critical considerations.

Trinity High Athletic Director Mandy Lahey said she plans to deliver Sanchez's paperwork to the CIF office in Chico on Friday morning.


Connect with T.J. Holmes on Twitter @tjholmes_RS

 

January 23, 2015
 
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