Bishop Sycamore, team that duped ESPN, lacking state documents

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Bishop Sycamore High School, the supposed Columbus football powerhouse who could have fooled ESPN into a nationwide TV blowout it suffered last week, told the Ohio Department of Education in an official filing that he s was “one of the best academic institutions in the country”.

That said, the school doesn’t seem to exist anywhere except in print, on the internet, and some argue in the minds of its founders, who, based on growing questions, may have used it as a vehicle. to create a touring football organization. Last school year, he reported an enrollment of just three children – not enough students even for a good game of wrestling.

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Bishop Sycamore has not yet deposited anything for this year, but has until the end of September to do so.

Governor Mike DeWine has called for an investigation.

“Schools like Bishop Sycamore have an obligation under Ohio law to meet certain minimum standards,” DeWine said in a statement. “Whether Bishop Sycamore meets these standards is not clear. I have asked the Ohio Department of Education to investigate Bishop Sycamore to ensure that Ohio law and s ‘ensure the school provides the educational opportunities that Ohio students deserve.

Addresses provided as school locations, including to the state, do not accommodate any students. Bishop Sycamore claims to be a “chartered, non-tax-funded school” which, according to state education ministry rules, means it bypasses normal operating systems “due to of truly entrenched religious beliefs “.

Questions swirl around Bishop Sycamore

These rules state that Bishop Sycamore will “certify annually in a report to the parents of his students that the school meets the Ohio minimum standards”, including for student attendance, teacher qualifications and inspections. fire, and that the report must also be filed with the department. .

But this report for last school year is only signed by the Bishop Sycamore Advisory Board, so it is not clear who wrote it. Other documents indicated that the school would begin on September 8, 2020, with a “mixed attendance” model, which the revised Ohio code defines as “the delivery of education in a combination of time in a physical location. supervised away from home and online delivery “.

“Online and traditional learning will be used,” he said, adding that it would provide 1,001 hours of instruction for three enrolled students. Andre Peterson, acting as the school administrator, signed the submission to the state on July 20, 2020, listing the school’s address as the Franklin University Library in downtown Columbus .

Repeated attempts by The Dispatch to reach one of the school or team officials over the past two days have been unsuccessful. However, a school official told national media, including USA TODAY Sports, that they were only trying to help children.

Franklin University said it was in talks to rent space at the school last year, but for some reason the school does not know, the deal fell apart last August when it sent to Peterson a letter saying that she was “no longer interested in pursuing a lease, financing or purchase of equipment, or any other relationship.” The letter was addressed to the ISE Foundation, which university spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio said represented Bishop Sycamore.

The university asked the school to “return or destroy” any information that had changed hands “in the past few months” as all discussions were “concluded with immediate effect,” the letter said.

“They didn’t ask for transcripts or anything,” said Ray Holtzclaw, father of former Bishop Sycamore player Judah Holtzclaw, a quarterback who graduated from Westerville Central High School last spring after had 1,339 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 10 scores. .

“So I asked them, and I said, are there any courses we need to take? He said,“ Judah is a qualifier; all he has to do is take a class with us to play and that’s a religion class I’m teaching. “I was like, ‘Uh, okay.'”

As for the other kids, Ray Holtzclaw believes there are some who would have lost their high school diploma from their home school because they opted out and transferred to Bishop Sycamore to play football, but then “never went to school”.

“As far as I know, none of the kids went to school,” said Ray Holtzclaw.

In 2018, ThisWeek Community Newspapers, owned by Dispatch, in Columbus, first detailed the saga of the team leaders’ initial attempt to create a school – apparently so it could field a traveling football team. He then claimed that there would be around 400 students taking online classes run by a Minnesota-based education company, Edmentum.

But a few months later, the then-Christian Faith Academy left behind only a set of bad debts and was accused of using a church’s name to solicit donations and sell insurance.

This school seemed to exist primarily on social media, where its football schedule featured games against Ohio high school powers like Huber Heights Wayne, Cleveland St. Ignatius and St. Edward and out-of-state programs like North Allegheny in Wexford, PA and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The Ministry of Education revoked the school’s registration in the fall of 2018 after visiting the reported address, only to find that occupants of the school said they had no knowledge of the ‘Academy of Christians of the Faith.

“Because the school could not be located and the attendance of the students could not be verified,” the department removed the school from its list, he said at the time.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association said in 2018 it also found no evidence of any school classes being held, and therefore decided it no longer considered the team associated with a school, effectively disqualifying it. of his interschool matches.

Does Bishop Sycamore School exist?

State Department of Education rules require that non-chartered schools report their enrollment to the treasurers of the home districts. But schools in the city of Columbus have been unable to locate any of these reports – nor any evidence from the state that there is even such a school to make reports.

“There is no school with this name in the Ohio Education Directory System,” said Columbus City Schools spokesperson Jacqueline Bryant. “The district has not received registration information for a Sycamore bishop.”

Bishop Sycamore’s file last year with the state’s Department of Education lists two organizations, Advancing Science Worldwide and Innovation Science and Education, as school partners in children’s education.

Advancing Science Worldwide, based in Gilbert, Ariz., Did not respond to a phone call left at its office Tuesday morning. Its website says the organization provides equipment, books, journals, facilities and other materials to promote science in developing countries, with a focus on helping Zimbabwe, Kenya and Africa. Zambia. It does not mention anything about the job in Columbus.

The Dispatch could not find any listings for innovation, science, and education, and Bishop Sycamore’s documents with the state do not provide an address or phone number, despite the filing stating that “these two institutions have been in education for 72 years combined ”.

ISE’s mission “is to provide disadvantaged students with a means to excel in studies and athletics,” the school’s state record reads. “… By providing an innovative educational platform, students take advantage of opportunities that are not readily available to them.”

Bishop Sycamore founder says school is ‘not a scam’

Andre Peterson, who played for Jim Tressel at Youngstown State in the 1980s, is the founder, manager of Bishop Sycamore and currently coaches the football team’s offensive and defensive lines.

He told USA TODAY Sports that there was no “scam” related to Sunday’s game or Bishop Sycamore.

“There is nothing that I got out of it that would constitute it as a scam because I am not making any money from what we do,” Peterson told USA TODAY Sports on Monday. “The reality is I have a son (Javan) who is also in the program and has been in the program for four years.

“If this is a scam and the kids don’t go to school and do what they’re supposed to do, then I’m literally getting ripped off. And more importantly, I’m hurting my own son. . So when people say things like that… I would literally take my son’s future and throw it in the trash. ”

Dispatch sports reporter Bailey Johnson and USA TODAY Sports’ Chris Bumbaca contributed to this story.

wbush@dispatch.com

@ReporterBush


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