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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
With eligibility for varsity sports riding on the outcome, the complicated and sometimes contentious process for handling student transfers is plagued with "deficiencies'' and needs action by lawmakers to provide more transparency, a legislative audit disclosed Tuesday.
The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor spent much of the last year examining the practices of the Minnesota State High School League, which oversees student eligibility for its 630-member high schools.
The auditor's 96-page report cited deficiencies in league eligibility criteria and how it makes eligibility decisions. It also criticized the league's board of directors for what the report called insufficient oversight of the administration of student eligibility.
The report, presented to the Legislature's Education Innovation Policy Committee, recommended seven areas of change in the league's policies and bylaws regarding student athletes who change schools.
Dave Stead, the league's executive director, said the league welcomes the recommendations: "When you get a report like this, our goal is to make things better and take advantage of the opportunities that we have now because of what they looked at from an outside standpoint. "
The audit was the first of the league since it tightened its eligibility rules in 2007, decreeing that unless there was a residence change, students changing schools after ninth grade must sit out one year of varsity competition. Most transfers are held to this standard, but others are complicated by factors such as divorcing parents, students with special needs and changes in schools.
Most eligibility cases are handled and finished at the school level. In 2015-16, 1,747 students transferred to a league-member school. Of that total, 850 had eligibility denied at the school level.
Of those denied, 129 appealed to the league office, where 66 were granted and 63 were denied. Of those denied, 51 requested a hearing. Of those requests, 12 received hearings, 22 had their eligibility granted without a hearing and 17 were denied hearings and eligibility.
The small number, however, does not diminish their importance, Deputy Auditor Judy Randall said. "The impact can be deep," she said. "We'd like to see more compassion."
Two recommendations received the most interest from the legislative committee: a need to streamline the process for appeals by making all necessary information and requirements readily available, and a lack of timeliness in the scheduling for an appeal.
The audit cited "inconsistent eligibility determinations among ... similar cases and delays due to deficiencies in league criteria and inconsistent, inadequate guidance."
"My concern is that there wasn't a single source to tell a family here's what they need to do and here's where they need to go," said Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, the committee chairwoman.
The lack of timeliness in appeals has long been a sore spot for families and students, with many stating that a season is often nearing completion before the hearing takes place.
"Sometimes there's some discrepancies, not treating everybody fairly," said Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, a former Forest Lake wrestling coach who proposed the audit in 2016. "Those were concerns that were brought to me by parents."
The auditor's report also recommended the Legislature amend state statutes to require the league to maintain transparency throughout the eligibility process and give the Minnesota Department of Education more leeway in oversight and review.
The league said it plans to implement most of the recommendations and raised concerns only where amending state statutes was concerned. It is a nonprofit organization and not a state agency and receives no direct funding from the Legislature, but is subject to legislative oversight.
Minneapolis attorney James T. Smith, who has battled the league on a transfer case involving a Cretin- Derham Hall soccer player, called the report "a great first step'' that ''doesn't go far enough to ensure consistency and transparency.''
Staff writer David La Vaque contributed to this report.
The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor on Tuesday issued recommendations for changes following its audit of the Minnesota State High School League's (MSHSL) transfer eligibility process.
· The Legislature should amend state statutes to require the MSHSL to establish a fair hearing process, and improve the league's rule-making processes.
· The Legislature should amend Minnesota Statutes 2016, 3.842, to provide for discretionary review of league eligibility regulations by the Legislative Coordinating Commission.
· The Legislature should amend state statutes to require the Minnesota Department of Education to review the MSHSL's transfer eligibility bylaws, policies and procedures for compliance with Department of Education programs and related state and federal law and monitor certain transfer student cases.
· The league should improve its correspondence and website to better inform schools and parents about requirements for transfer student eligibility, appeals, and requests for independent hearings.
· To improve consistency and compliance with league goals and regulations, members of the League Board of Directors should improve the review of league staff decisions regarding transfer student eligibility appeals and fair hearing requests.
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