Open enrollment won’t spur recruiting, educators contend

The whispers are always around.

Fingers are pointed, and accusations are made about one high school or another attempting to lure the area’s top athletes to attend classes in their building — giving their teams an advantage on the field to compete for state championships.

It’s called recruiting, and it’s far from legal in the eyes of the Clark County School District.

But the district’s decision to allow open enrollment at 16 high schools might open the door for some school shopping. Students may apply for any school with available space, but aren’t guaranteed enrollment. The student also must provide his or her own transportation.

“I don’t really think you’re looking at seeing top athletes changing schools,” said Durango High assistant principal Tim Jackson, whose school has available space for transfers. “I don’t think that’s what the intention is. Parents who care about academics will look at the academic programs at a school, but I don’t see it being open recruiting.”

Of the 16 schools that have available space, it’s a stretch to label any “athletic powerhouses.” Palo Verde, Centennial and Las Vegas High — generally among the upper echelon in most sports — do not have open seats. Juggernaut Bishop Gorman is a private school.

Liberty, though, is knocking on the door to join the elite, having advanced to the state semifinals or further in three sports, including football, in the past 13 months. Desert Oasis, a third-year school, is starting to make waves. And  Durango and Del Sol have football teams that are more than competitive.

All can take transfers, so will that open the door to, in essence, legal recruiting?

“There’s always a concern about recruiting,” said Ray Mathis, the district’s  executive athletic director. “The thing that keeps it more honest is there is no (district) transportation involved. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You’re talking about a real commitment.”

Mathis said the district would treat athletic eligibility for students who participate in open enrollment  much as it does those who attend magnet schools. The district has a handful of magnet high schools that offer unique academic programs. Students from anywhere in the district can attend those schools and be eligible for sports.

“It’s pretty much the same concept,” Mathis said. “Magnets have been around for a number of years now, and we’ve probably only had one program where someone has questioned (whether athletes were recruited). We don’t have any reason to believe anything (wrong) is going on. There is no proof.”

But there is a catch.

“Kids have to be very careful about leaving their home school,” Mathis said

There’s always a chance that top athletes at the same position in the same sport could transfer to the same school. In that case, one might transfer back to a home school to maintain playing time or starter status, making the athlete ineligible for 180 school days.

The same probably  will be true if a student enrolls at a school outside of his or her zone one year, then changes to another open enrollment school the following year.

“I don’t think we’re going to allow that,” Mathis said. “I think that would open the door to more school shopping. I think once you’re there, you’re there.”

Outlying schools like Virgin Valley in Mesquite and Moapa Valley in Overton also have space available, but aren’t expecting to add students, largely because of geography and the rivalry those two schools share.

“People are so diehard out here,” Virgin Valley principal David Wilson said. “The stigma attached to being from one school or the other is big. You may have one or two students who change schools for academics, but that’s it.”

Even among the Las Vegas-area schools, there’s no guarantee schools with open space will gain athletes.

“I don’t know that recruiting is as widespread as people think,” Cimarron-Memorial assistant principal Brian McAllister said. “Does it happen? There’s probably some, but we have no proof. I don’t see this changing anything.”

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