Court: Riverwood illegally recruits APS students

The Southerner

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By Nally Kinnane

At least 60 of Riverwood High School’s 1,316 students should not be there, according to a recent lawsuit pitting APS against Fulton County Schools.

In the case of Atlanta Independent School System. v. Fulton County Schools, APS sued FCS to stop the practice of illegally enrolling rising ninth-grade students.

It came to the attention of APS officials last fall that a number of their students were receiving recruiting phone calls from Riverwood High School administrators.

“Not only do we suspect that Riverwood was recruiting some of our academically excellent students, we also suspect Riverwood was recruiting some of our talented student athletes,” said Sharon Pitts, APS chief of staff.

Up until 2007, when Riverwood became a charter school, students were allowed to cross districts to attend Riverwood if they were willing to pay tuition.

“In order for Riverwood to be able to enroll students from outside the district, an agreement must be made between the two school boards,” Pitts said. “No such agreement currently exists between Fulton County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools.”

Not only is enrolling across districts a violation of the charter agreements, but the practice of pursuing potential enrollees violates Georgia High School Athletic Association rules and regulations. These rules state that any person connected directly or indirectly with a GHSA school is not allowed to induce a student of any age to transfer from one school to another, or to enter the ninth grade at a GHSA school for athletic competition.

Pitts said that although there were many rumors of illegal recruiting, the only allegation GHSA substantiated was that a Riverwood basketball coach went to Sutton Middle School and encouraged students to come to Riverwood for athletics.

Even after Riverwood officials were asked to discontinue the recruitment of students who were out of zone, they didn’t stop. According to Pitts and APS school board member Nancy Meister, parents of middle school students reported that recruitment was still going on.

“These parents indicated that their students were being actively recruited by Riverwood during the 2008-2009 school year, while their students were still in middle school,” Pitts said. “Many were contacted again in the spring by Riverwood staff asking if they wanted to move forward on their applications to attend school.”

APS parent Roz McClure told her story of recruitment in an affidavit filed with the Fulton County Superior courts.

“I received a phone call from Roxy Garber, a counselor at Riverwood,” McClure said. “Ms. Garber left a telephone message stating that she was ‘not sure’ whether our family was happy at North Atlanta and that Riverwood now had openings for out-of-district students.”

Meister explained that North Atlanta principal Mark MyGrant called Riverwood principal Eddie Echols multiple times and got no response. As a result, the issue was referred to the State Court for a ruling. The state, however, had no power on the charter ruling, so a lawsuit was filed.

On July 27, APS and Fulton County Schools reached an agreement on the lawsuit. Sophomores, juniors and seniors were allowed to remain at Riverwood while freshmen and other first-year students were removed from the school. The court also issued an order declaring that Fulton County cannot enroll APS students at Riverwood without a memorandum of understanding between the districts and that Fulton County Schools must pay APS $44,000 toward its legal fees and costs.

This story earned a Superior rating in the Sports News category at the Georgia Scholastic Press Association Awards Assembly on April 28, 2011.

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