Open enrollment has been a sticky issue with the California Interscholastic Federation since it was introduced almost two years ago.
The state's top athletic administrators were unsure how to deal with state legislation that allowed students to freely transfer to schools within their district as space permitted.
CIF officials feared such a policy would result in the shopping of athletes and the building of all-star teams. So for the 1994-95 school year, they adopted their own bylaw, requiring open-enrollment transfers to be completed by Sept. 15 of each year and be done only once during a high school career without jeopardizing athletic eligibility.
Since the beginning of this school year, the Southern Section has processed nearly 700 open-enrollment forms for athletes.
Just as school administrators and coaches are becoming familiar with the complexity of open enrollment, the rules are about to change.
At the CIF state council meeting in San Francisco last month, a revision to the bylaw passed that requires open-enrollment transfers to be filed by May 15 of the preceding school year in order to maintain athletic eligibility. The revision also makes it tougher for private schools to accept open-enrollment transfers.
Reaction has been mixed, but many private school administrators expect a legal fight over the changes.
"My desk is cluttered with open-enrollment memos as we speak," said Gary Smidderks, principal of Los Angeles Baptist High in North Hills and a member of the Southern Section's executive committee. "To say that private schools can't have a say in some of the students they accept is ludicrous. It goes against what they're all about."
Smidderks is referring to the new CIF regulation that says schools, public or private, must use random selection if they are to accept any open-enrollment transfers.
Smidderks said private schools usually have strict guidelines for incoming students, with regard to grades, age and even religious affiliation. Random selection would challenge such policies.
Open enrollment was devised for public school districts, allowing parents to send their children to any school in their district even if they didn't reside in its attendance boundary. Acceptance is based on availability and must be done randomly, giving no preference to athletes or other students.
The law created special problems for the CIF, which has strict eligibility rules regarding transfer students. It felt allowing one open-enrollment transfer in a high school career was fair and would limit the frequency with which students moved.
Athletically, private schools had gained an advantage with open enrollment, since they have accepted students from any district. Public schools can accept only students within their district.
And private schools have hand-selected their open-enrollment transfers and not used the random-selection process required for public schools.
That is about to change. In the next few months, private schools must determine whether they will accept open-enrollment transfers, and if they do, the selection must be random.
"This has been a very confusing process for all of our schools, and it doesn't appear that it's going to get any easier," said Bill Clark, Southern Section associate commissioner. "The laws keep changing, and the paperwork keeps growing. It's difficult to follow."
Smidderks said the rule will change the playing field, and it won't be an even one for private schools.
"I'm sure this is going to be litigated in the court, because you can't tell private schools that they can't decide who gets in their school and who doesn't," Smidderks said. "It's not what we're about."