Transfer of Hollister’s Football Star Hits Community Nerve- Should We Name Names?

Our last post caused such a stir we wanted to respond in more detail to one commenter’s charge about disclosing a student’s name…..

Vance, is correct! Typically, names of children should not be disclosed and subjected to debate.  However, all athletes who choose to participate in varsity sports enter the public domain and this athlete was addressed, by name, in a local newspaper. His stats are also highly visible to college recruiters and others on numerous websites so the issue became of interest when he moved from Hollister to Morgan Hill during his varsity career. While students do not check their civil rights at the door when they attend school, they give up certain privacy protection when they compete in a public , highly visible varsity sport,  by choice. CCS officials who are highly compensated with public funds also give up their privacy rights. Those are necessary considerations to ensure transparency and equity in our high school athletic programs.  Additionally, this is a matter of public interest because many athletes are denied the opportunity to maintain eligibility after a family move during a varsity career. So to ensure the rules are equitably enforced , it merits specific discussion with actual examples.

CCS Watch dog has received 1,000 hits , 2 public comments and 50 private emails on this topic, so it is clearly of importance to the CCS community. The issue at hand is not  an individual student, but how CCS managed the transfer. For over 20 years Nancy Blaser has had the sole responsibility of reviewing and determining the transfer request and varsity eligibility issues as they related to  hundreds of CCS athletes. On their own none of these would appear to be problematic, however when reviewed and discussed , the issues related to personal bias or economic conflicts of interest appear to have negatively impacted hundreds of athletes in this CIF Section for years . The issue is  not that Ms. Blaser approved an athletic transfer of a varsity football player, it is more about those she has denied and how CCS and CIF have not managed that issue properly. If one athlete was improperly denied athletic opportunities when another was granted those opportunities based on Ms.  Blaser’s sole authority, the issue deserves the attention of the entire CCS Community.

Ms. Blaser’s record on Salinas High early in her career provides the best example as to why this issue is more important than Vance believes: There was a charge that an athlete at Salinas High had improperly enrolled in the school. It was discovered that the family owned multiple properties within the city and had moved without properly notifying the school. At the time Ms. Blaser imposed the harshest sanction available to her as CCS Commissioner. She denied athletic eligibility in all sports  at Salinas High for one year and football for three years. Hundreds of students from golfers, swimmers to  basketball and volleyball players lost athletic opportunities to not only play and enjoy sports during their high school career, but also to earn college scholarships and future academic opportunities.

CCS and CIF have failed to disclose if Ms. Blaser was in compliance with her obligations to disclose her conflicts of interest at the time she made the decision related to Salinas High . While many would say it was a leap to assume she had personal motivation in removing Salinas High’s athletic eligibility,  it is a fact that her husband was employed and coached for a rival team that went on to win a CCS championship in and around the time Ms. Blaser made the  decision. Did Ms. Blaser’s husband have a better opportunity to win with Salinas High out of the way or staggering from a loss of eligibility? Did Ms. Blaser’s husband have a better program,  receive more personal recognition or  higher pay because Salinas offered no competition to his program? It may be a reach, but because it is possible it is legally required that these very issues be managed and transparent so they are fair for all athletes.  As of now , they are not.

It is a fact that school districts continue to act far worse than Salinas High did in this matter and CCS does nothing. Is that because Ms. Blaser has nothing to gain in those communities? Is it because she has something to lose if they lose athletic eligibility? CCS Watchdog is aware that MS. Blaser did not investigate the transfer in this matter as she has investigated others.  As to other issues that certainly came up in this case, Ms. Blaser may not have acted either. Ms. Blaser surely had to address recruiting, practice times,  club participation and much more. It is unlikely that if something came up related to Morgan Hill’s program that she acted as she is required. It certainly would impact housing prices in Morgan Hill at a critical time if the school district were to lose eligibility for all sports as Salinas High did.

So Much Cheating……. What Happens When it is Actually the Student?

A student at Redwood City High School was recently expelled from his honors English class after it was discovered that he had copied another student’s homework. We applaud Redwood City High for taking swift and firm action in addressing cheating, but only if such action was not retaliatory in nature AND only if the school has treated all cases of cheating, academically or  athletically, equitably.

The parents of the cheating student have now filed a lawsuit against the high school claiming that the policy was vague and it was not understood that homework was included in the policy. Since teachers within the same school often have vastly different ideas related to homework including; how much is assigned, if it is worked on in small groups or if it is even graded. In the absence of a uniform homework policy that is clearly communicated and equitably enforced to the entire student body, the case has merit.

Within CCS all athletes appear to be bound by the same rules, but there seems to be constant exceptions. In some cases CCS has penalized one school for cheating, and ignored the cheating of another school. Some athletes have been granted privileges, when other athletes in very similar circumstances have been denied those same privileges.  Some coaches have lost their jobs for what would seem like a minor rule infraction, while others have remained on the job and continue to blatantly violate rules and regulations. Of course athletes and students are confused! When the adults around them fail to set  rules and enforce rules with transparency or equity,  it is confusing. When the adults  fail to act with integrity themselves, how can we expect children to understand how they should act.

So before we determine if the case against Redwood City is frivolous, we might realize there may be bigger questions to ask and if the case moves forward the school will have to demonstrate the policy was clear, reasonable and equitably applied. If that information becomes part of a lawsuit and in the public domain, we all benefit and iron curtain that has protected schools and CCS-CIF may be lifted.

Did the CCS Commissioner Approve a Varsity Transfer to Improve the Value of Her Home?

It is a widely accepted that communities with good schools and good athletic programs garner higher house prices than communities with lower performing schools and sports programs.  So it shouldn’t be lost on the CCS community that a highly visible star football player has just transferred from Hollister to Morgan Hill, where CCS Commissioner, Nancy Blaser has lived for over 20 years. Certainly  Ms. Blaser has noticed the decline in her home’s value in recent years , but did that fact enter in her consideration and approval of  Michael Bocksnick’s transfer just prior to his senior year and final high school football season?

CIF and CCS continue to fail to address and manage critical conflicts of interest that are so flagrant that they would never be tolerated in any other area where public funds are used. Did Ms. Blaser recuse herself when considering Michael Bocksnick’s transfer since she owns  property in the community that would certainly benefit from the transfer approval?  Did Ms. Blaser  investigate the Bosnick family move with the same fever as she has historically investigated other CCS families?  If the issue were to become part of a public lawsuit could CCS show it handled and investigated all transfers equitably?

Hollister’s football team will surely miss Michael Bocknick next year and Morgan Hill is elated to have him. Maybe Morgan Hill will finally celebrate a winning football season and being the home to the CCS Commissioner.

What Happens when School Districts Cheat on Enrollment Rules to Benefit Athletic Programs?

For years private schools have benefited from enrollment flexibility within CCS, that same flexibility is not afforded  to CCS public school members.  Since student enrollment has been at the heart of eligibility, competition and employment issues in both CCS and CIF for well over 30 years , it has clearly given private schools and their athletes an athletic advantage. This single issue has cost CCS member schools, families and athletes hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Coaches have been fired, students have been denied athletic opportunities and schools have been  burdened more by managing enrollment issues than any other single issue in high school sports.

Nancy Blaser has ruled on enrollment issues within CCS with an iron fist.  After notoriously stripping schools and students of eligibility on the basis of enrollment issues for the past 20 years , she appears to be suddenly deviating from her hard line position. Is the change based on her possible bias for private schools having been recently vetted , or because her youngest daughter is now graduating and Ms. Blaser no longer has a personal interest in gatekeeping kids that compete with or against her daughters?

Some say changes realted to enrollment issues in CCS are  long overdue and welcome, and they are. But what about those who are cheating now or those who were severely penalized before?  While the issue works its way through the long CCS process, what about the evidence Ms. Blaser has received in recent years related  to these very issues? How has CIF and CCS managed her potential conflicts of interest ?

While we applaud any new rules related to equitable opportunities and enforcement of enrollment of all athletes in CCS, we find the timing of this issue concerning. Just like concussion rules and policies, new rules  and policies related to  enrollment issues are long overdue. We wonder if such issues had been addressed sooner how many athletes and schools would not have been improperly denied athletic opportunities.

The rules remain  on the books, CCS should remember  its obligation to enforce all rules equitably until they are changed. If a school district is cheating on enrollment and recruiting, it is likely cheating other places as well.  If the  Commissioner’s conflicts of interest are not properly managed in one area, they are not likely properly managed in other areas.

Academic and Athletic Cheating: How many schools in CCS may be implicated?

Gilroy Unified School District was recently thrown  into the national spot light  after a report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution  revealed   that many standardized  test reports appear to be statistically improbably , indicating that cheating was more than  possible.  Congressional and criminal investigations have been launched as a well.  It would not be a leap  to assume that if cheating and  loss of integrity is  present in one area of our public institutions, it is likely present in others as well.

CIF and CCS have a long history of complaints related to equity and cheating in high school athletics. Many decisions and  rules made by these organizations appear to be  inequitable and unfair and continue to burden  individual student athletes.

Legal fees paid by both  CIF and CCS , and indirectly all member schools, may provide additional insight on this matter . As previously reported , the 2009 Santa Clara Country Grand Jury Report (http://www.scscourt.org/court_divisions/civil/cgj/2009/EducationDollars.pdf_)  blasted school district  use of public money for excessive administrative and legal fees. The report went on to note specific legal firms that had been paid by local school districts.  Among those were the firms Lozano Smith and Fagan , Friedman and Fulfrost.  Lozano Smith was at one time sanctioned for charging school districts excessive legal fees and  was subsequently  ordered by a court to attend ethics courses .  Despite this questionable background, many local school districts continued to retain Lozano Smith.

Lozano Smith has been  paid substantial  fees to represent  Campbell, Franklin , Fremont and San Jose Unified  school districts.  Los Gatos- Saratoga’s  website currently provides a link to an “Athlete’s Bill of Rights”  which is printed on Lozano Smith letterhead in an effort to inform families of their legal rights as they relate to athetics in high school sports.

After being sanctioned for ethics violations, an attorney from  Lozano Smith left and became a partner in the law firm Fagen, Friedman, and Fullfrost, which currently is the main counsel for CIF, CCS and continues to represent school districts including :

  • Fremont
  • Lakeside
  • Los Altos
  • Los Gatos
  • Los Gatos Union*

*The 2009 Grand Jury report noted Los Gatos Union alone  had paid Fagen,  Freidman and Fullfrost in excess of   $293,000 .

If  law firms with documented ethics violations are retained to oversee  legal affairs related to academics and athletics  for our local public schools , is it any wonder that ethics concerns are now emerging  in the districts  and organizations that use those firms?  Is it that much of a reach to think:  If there is cheating in sports ,  cheating in academics is likely present as well.

Are CCS Legal Fees Escalating to Protect CCS Management or Hide Serious Injuries to Young Athletes or Both?

CCS watchdog has learned that serious injury complaints and reports have been filed directly with CCS . In one case,  a young woman suffered a major concussion when a competitor from a private school “ took her out” on the sidelines during a CCS game ( in a sport that is considered low risk for contact injury). Medical reports and testimony were offered and CCS responded the incident was “unfortunate” and that the injured girl’s school had followed proper procedure related to her  head injury. However CCS failed to address the offending school. Was that because that school was a private school that had “protection “ with current CCS management?

Was public money used for legal fees when CCS drafted a letter to the family of the injured girl stating the incident was “unfortunate” ? Was public money used for legal fees to determine that despite police reports and medical bills that demonstrated bodily harm had occurred in a CCS game , that no obligation existed  to address the matter further? Does that violate personal requirements for both individuals and the organization to report the incident to legal authorities ?

Coaches who  tried to speak out and found themselves fired  or displaced are now coming forward  and providing more details  about troubling issues within  the CCS  organization and the financial exposure schools face by  allowing major issues to continue to inflict harm on young athletes.   If investigations continue to uncover that CCS has  acted  improperly on everything from managing conflicts of interest to ignoring obligations  to report physical injury of minor children, any criminal or civil charges that may be brought against the organization , or individuals within the organization, will be long overdue and more than justified.

California Court Ruling Opens the Legal Door for Harassed and Abused Athletes to Sue School Districts, CCS and the CIF .

In a  recent ruling the California Supreme Court held a school district responsible for sexual abuse of a student by one of the school’s counselors. In the court’s final ruling Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, noted that school principals and other supervisors “have the responsibility of taking reasonable measures to guard pupils against harassment and abuse from foreseeable sources” .

The lawyer for the abused student, Stuart Esner,  noted the ruling will  “allow compensation for people who are harmed and may have a side effect of increasing vigilance.”

This ruling should give school administrators and school districts reason to worry, but students and their families’ reason to celebrate. The stage is set. Finally a complete arsenal of legal definitions and precedent may be in place to give student athletes and their families relief from the harassment, bullying, sexual abuse and denied opportunities that have persisted in high school sports for far too long.

CCS watchdog has repeatedly described a long standing culture that not only provides for abuse , but consistently allows it to be  swept behind closed doors . Enough evidence exists to support that CCS officials , including school administrators , coaches and other supervisors  have had ample opportunity to know the reality of what is going on in our high school sports programs, but have failed to act.  From police and medical reports that support children have been physically abused by coaches, competitors or peers to lost opportunities based on adult mistakes or false claims, the potential legal and financial exposure to CCS and schools districts throughout California is significant.

Individual administrators, coaches, commissioners and other officials should take note as well. If these individuals act badly, act for personal gain, fail to act reasonably, are knowingly skirting the law based on bad legal advice,  they  could have  exposure  and be sued personally .  The coach who hides behind the long accepted “ it is the coach’s decision”  to harass or deny legitimate opportunities  to student athletes without further transparency, the AD who casually dismisses parent complaints  to support their coach,  the administrator who is aware of a toxic sports culture but fails to act based on other priorities  or  school board members who sweep individual cases into private settlements  or continually push these issues back down the chain of command, take note. If a toxic culture exists because the leadership provided for it, everyone in the chain may be held personally responsible, as they should.

Mr. Stuart Esner may be right; the side effect of this recent decision may be increased vigilance. And while such vigilance may ultimately improve high school athletics, it is unfortunate such change will be a result of financial and legal pressure and not because people first chose to simply do the right thing for our student athletes.