Saying the ruling is part unfair and part unconstitutional, Genesis Prep is requesting a formal appeal to the Idaho High School Activities Association ruling last fall preventing F-1 (international) students from playing in district and state tournaments, effective the 2018-19 school year.
Genesis Prep principal Chris Finch emailed a letter to IHSAA executive director Ty Jones late Tuesday afternoon. An IHSAA board meeting is scheduled for Thursday; another one is slated for Aug. 1.
Finch wasn’t sure how soon the Post Falls school’s appeal could make it onto a board agenda, but he was hoping to get the ball rolling so a decision could be made prior to the postseason for fall sports.
“We thought we can at least give it a try and see if they might be able to look at it again,” Finch said.
The letter states, in part:
“ ... singling out F1 students in the manner the rule does, prohibiting them from participating in district or state tournaments violates the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution. The discussions leading up to the rule’s adoption show that it was enacted with the specific intent to address a perceived unfairness by other Association members. The impact of the rule is only on the F1 student athletes, which implicates their national origin. As such, they are a suspect class, subject to discrimination solely because of that suspect class.
“Moreover, Title VI specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin. The rule applies only to F1 students. The IHSAA, acting on behalf of member schools subject to these constraints, or on behalf of itself, have adopted a rule that clearly implicates national origin discrimination.”
Since the ruling came down last September, at an IHSAA board meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Genesis Prep has been considering its options — one of which was, following the regular season, rather than play in the postseason without its F-1 students, skipping districts and state and playing in a national Christian school tournament.
“But our preference is to stay in Idaho,” Finch said. “I guess the only option that we’re not looking at is splitting up our kids — it would just be against what we stand for as a school. All other options are on the table.”
Genesis Prep belongs to the Association of Christian Schools International, which boasts other Christian schools including Nampa Christian, Twin Falls Christian, Watersprings and Cole Valley Christian.
Finch said after discussing the IHSAA ruling with those schools, “they also have some international schools that would be affected as well. “Those guys have had F-1 students long before we did. So even though it (the ruling) seems to be centered toward Genesis Prep, it certainly is not a Genesis thing.”
Genesis Prep’s boys basketball program has been sanctioned by the IHSAA for three seasons. The Jaguars placed third at state in 1A Division II, Idaho’s smallest classification, in 2016. Genesis Prep won the state title in 2017 and this year, and has dominated the North Star League all three years.
Though both teams were well-stocked with talented players from this area, both also included at least one F-1 student — both years, that student stood 6-foot-9.
Genesis Prep’s girls, featuring a 6-4 student from Rwanda, placed third at state in 2017, and advanced to the state championship game this season.
“If our record was different, or their height was different, we might not be having this discussion,” Finch said.
Finch said Genesis Prep had a pair of students last year that, because the Jaguars don’t offer boys soccer, played on the Lake City High varsity. One graduated this year but the other will be a senior this fall.
“So it’s a bigger thing than just a private school deal,” Finch said.
F-1 students differ from exchange students in that exchange students can only stay one year, while F-1 students can stay all four years of high school.
A look at the list of Idaho schools accredited to accept F-1 students are mostly small, private, Christian schools like Genesis Prep. Only three larger, public schools — none from North Idaho — are accredited.
Finch has heard the whispers for years that Genesis Prep recruits its international athletes to the school.
“They all have their different stories how they come here,” Finch said.
He said the international students have to contact Genesis Prep first. Then the dialogue begins.
Finch says he “recruits” potential students in the area all the time — some as young as kindergarten age — seeing he’s trying to sell the education at a private, lesser-known school.
“Do we recruit for athletic purposes? That’s a 100 percent ‘no,’” Finch said.
Finch said the IHSAA knew the rules Genesis Prep was operating under when the school joined the IHSAA — then changed the rules when the Jaguars got good.
“You can’t level some playing fields and not level others,” he said. “They changed the rules on us, and that’s unfortunate.”
At last September’s board meeting, Genesis Prep offered to move up three classifications to the 3A level. But the IHSAA said no.
Hence, months later, the decision to appeal.
“We don’t know if this would allow us to re-look at the issue,” Finch said, “or if this is another step to a ‘no.’”