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Placer parents, district plan to continue legal battle

Superintendent says it’s too late for this year
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Placer High School’s football season may be over but the fight to right a wrong over three forfeited games will likely go on in the courtroom and boardroom, Placer Union High School District Superintendent Bart O’Brien said Monday. O’Brien said he is convinced that Placer’s football team was unfairly and perhaps illegally prevented from reaching the playoffs. But he is not prepared to risk $20,000 or more to prove the point. O’Brien said that while Placer and a team of volunteer attorney-parents won’t pursue a court injunction over last Saturday’s forfeit ruling by a California Interscholastic Federation appeals board, school representatives are working with the National Youth Law Center’s Oakland office on a possible legal challenge under a 2004 “equal access” state law that applies to youths placed by courts with foster families. And Placer High could press for changes in CIF-Sac Joaquin Section rules that don’t take into account a foster-care, equal-access-to-education law adopted after the initial hardship regulations the ruling was based on were put in place. The forfeits occurred because of hardship paperwork CIF officials say should have been filed by Placer High School Athletic Director Mark Lee for a Hillman football player. The player had lived in Auburn and attended E.V. Cain Middle School previously, lived and played high-school football last year in Vallejo in foster care, and then returned to live with family members. The player was declared eligible to play in the next game after the three forfeits were announced and officials deemed proper paperwork was submitted by Placer High. The National Youth Law Center will be working with a team of Placer parents who are lawyers to push for a change in regulations that don’t take Assembly Bill 490 into account. If the bill had been considered in relationship to hardship rules for players eligible to transfer without penalty, then no paperwork would have needed to be filed and no forfeits would have taken place, O’Brien said. With the appeal denied, Placer players will be on the outside looking in this Friday when the Colfax Falcons play as the No. 3 seed in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. IV playoffs. A reversal of the forfeits would have meant Placer would have seen action Friday instead of the Falcons team – which they beat two weeks ago in Colfax. O’Brien added that Lee did nothing wrong and, in fact, filled out paperwork for 13 other transferring high school athletes this year. He also talked with the Vallejo school about the returning football player’s attendance and disciplinary record, he said. With an estimated cost of $15,000 to $20,000 to attempt to get a temporary injunction through the courts before Friday’s game, O’Brien said he couldn’t justify spending that amount of money in the current economic climate. As well, if the injunction was not granted, the district would also be eligible to pick up all CIF legal costs. Even if the money was available, O’Brien said legal advisers told the district that a judge would not be able to rule by Friday’s game whether to take Colfax out and put Placer into the playoffs. As a member of the state Interscholastic Federation, Placer can ask for changes in the rules that would help avoid a future repeat of the forfeits at another school, O’Brien said. Students continued to harbor negative feelings Monday on their first day back at Placer after the weekend ruling on the school’s appeal. “A lot of people are ticked off,” said Colin Brown, during a break from track P.E. class. “A lot feel it’s unfair. It’s like a paperwork mistake cost us our season basically.” Shellie Martin, a freshman taking a water break from freshman P.E. class, said it was hard for students to accept, particularly when the team was so good this year. Martin had a message for CIF officials. “They need to grow up,” she said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.