Address fraud in GA schools "out of control"

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Allatoona High School in Acworth played for and won the AAAAA championship last December, one month after school leaders received a signed complaint alleging two of their best players did not live in Cobb County.

The FOX 5 I-Team obtained a copy of the email with the names of the students blacked out. We confirmed the two players mentioned were starting all-state safety Juanyea Tarver and starting all-state tailback Russell Halimon.

Cobb Director of athletics Steve Jones replied by calling them "old allegations" and wrote "The admin(istration) at Allatoona are aware and said they have looked into this."

Case closed. And according to Georgia High School Association executive committee member Dave Hunter, there is nothing else state regulators can do.

"It's up to them to investigate themselves?" FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis asked Hunter.

"The GHSA has no way of knowing where that person lives because the local school admitted him into school," he answered.

Randy: Let's say someone got into school in the 9th grade, using an address that wasn't accurate. As far as GHSA is concerned, they're still legal?

Hunter: That's his home school.

Randy: Even if they didn't have a proper address in the first place.

Hunter: That's correct. That was the school's responsibility.

And that has always been the way it works. Even if a parent lied about their address to get their student into a certain school district, as long as the student was admitted to the 9th grade there are no state rules barring them from continuing to attend and play sports there. The state relies on the local school districts to do the heavy lifting of enforcing their residency rules and removing ineligible students.

The question: how seriously did Cobb County take the complaints involving Tarver and Halimon?

The families of both players told the FOX 5 I-Team they really do live in Cobb County and have for years. But every time the FOX 5 I-Team randomly checked two Paulding County addresses, we saw each player there. Five different times. That even included leaving those Paulding County homes in the morning on a school day.

We asked Halimon's mother Lashawn how she could be living in Paulding County when her son played in Cobb.

"According to records, it shows you've been living here 2-3 years now."

"No, this is where my mom moved after her surgery," she replied. "So I would actually stay here from time to time to take care of her."

But neighbors of the Cobb County addresses Ms. Halimon provided tell us they've never seen her or her family.

As for Juanyea Tarver, his Paulding County parents gave guardianship to his Cobb County grandmother when he was in middle school. But neighbors in Paulding say Juanyea and his sisters still live there with their parents.

Dad Corey Tarver insisted otherwise, even though we saw him at that Paulding home one school morning taking all three of his kids in his car.

"They've been living over there," he insisted, referring to the grandmother's home. "Every since they've been going to Cobb County schools."

"So they've got a mom and they've got a dad but they don't live with either of them."

"No."

"They live with their grandmother."

"Yes."

Cobb County school leaders did not want to hear about our findings, and told us there was no investigation underway. Compare that position to what happened at Grady High School in 2013. The difference is dramatic.

Acting only on an anonymous complaint, Atlanta Public School investigators visited the neighborhoods where Grady football players claimed to have lived. They found evidence some parents bought dummy leases off the Internet and used forged utility bills to prove residency. The five-month investigation discovered at least a dozen players enrolled at Grady with fake addresses.

The team had to forfeit its entire 2013 season.

"Parents have an ethical obligation to provide accurate addresses to the district and to set an appropriate ethical example for their children," then-APS superintendent Erroll Davis told reporters in 2013.

"It's out of control," agreed GHSA board member Dave Hunter. "It's really out of control. And it sends the wrong message to the kids that we're going to win at all costs."

The retired Brookwood High School football coach and athletic director said he sees address fraud running rampant throughout Georgia schools. But even in the Grady case, GHSA could only find violations on the four ineligible students who claimed they had transferred to Grady. That's because the other 10 actually started Grady as freshmen. Even if someone lied to get them in, they didn't fall under GHSA rules. They fell under APS residency rules. And it was APS that kicked them all out.

"If they're using fictitious addresses, that's wrong," stressed Hunter. "And if they're in school deceitfully, to me that would be wrong."

"But it's not part of GHSA's rules," reminded Randy.

"Not if that's their home school," Hunter agreed.

"If you rely on the local folks to really enforce themselves, if they've got a couple of really good players who may not really should be there, what's the incentive for them to do the right thing?"

Hunter paused. "Well, to do the right thing. That should be the incentive. It's about ethics."

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