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Transfer student rules need work, audit shows

East Grand Forks Sacred Heart girls basketball player Michele Remer takes the first cut of the net after the Eagles defeated Fosston 51-42 in 2016 to advance to the Minnesota State Girls basketball tournament. The tourney is organized by the Minnesota High School League. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Rules governing high school students who transfer so they can play on better sports teams need to be tightened, a state audit recommends.

The Office of Legislative Auditor said the Minnesota State High School League and Legislature should make law, rules and procedure changes so student transfers can be handled fairly.

"We think the league needs to have more transparency in its rule making processes," Judy Randall of the auditor's office told the House Education Innovation Policy Committee Tuesday, April 4.

While not overly critical of the league, Randall said that it is inconsistent with how it deals with transfer students and the study found "some unnecessary delays." It also is hard for students and parents to get information on transfers, she added.

The issue is over how the league enforces rules designed to prevent athletes transferring from one school to another in order to join a better sports team. The league bans such transfer students from playing varsity sports for a year.

League Executive Director Dave Stead said that when a student transfers in and takes a place on a team, it can affect "the kid sitting on the bench," who could be knocked off the team.

If a student transfers because his or her family moves from one district to another, there is no delay for playing sports.

Athletics was the focus of the audit, even though the league also governs competition such as debate and speech, too. The league's $16 million budget is funded by 630 member schools and revenue from tournaments it sponsors.

While state law established the league, the state has done little to regulate student transfers, among the most-discussed issues the league deals with.

The audit suggests a new law to establish a fair hearing process and improve the organization's rulemaking process. It also says the state Education Department should be given specific league oversight authority.

Other recommendations include improving the league website to better inform schools and families about the transfer process and more involvement from the league's Board of Directors.

League officials say they support the recommendations and will take some of the suggested actions even if legislators made no law changes.

"The purpose of evaluation is to improve performance, and that is what we want to do..." league lobbyist Roger Aronson said. "We made a decision that we wanted to do as many of these recommendations as we can before next school year."

Aronson said that in the last year 1,747 students sought to transfer, and half automatically were determined to be eligible to participate in activities without a delay. Of the remaining students, 132 contacted the board to seek approval to immediately be allowed to participate. Most received that approval.

The education committee took no action Tuesday, but Chairwoman Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said she expects it to arise in future sessions. "This will be an ongoing topic for us."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.