After a Seattle Times investigation, the Bellevue School District has asked state officials to investigate the vaunted Bellevue High School football program.
The Bellevue School District said Tuesday it has requested a state investigation of the powerhouse football program at Bellevue High School.
The request follows a Seattle Times story that detailed how the team’s success was aided by a small private school. Two former teachers at The Academic Institute described the 40-student school as a “diploma mill.”
“Bellevue High School and the Bellevue School District take allegations such as those included in The Seattle Times article seriously,” the district said in a statement.
Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), said the next step is for the WIAA to find an investigator and determine the scope of work. He said the process can take time, because of the complexity and seriousness of the issues at hand.
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“I don’t know how long that process will take,” Colbrese said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the state Office of Public Instruction (OSPI) has asked that the Academic Institute correct its website and say the school is “approved” by the state, not “accredited.”
Nathan Olson, an OSPI spokesman, said the agency doesn’t accredit private schools but rather vets them each year and recommends whether the State Board of Education should deem them approved.
In The Times story, former teachers, a parent and a student described lax procedures at Academic Institute. One student, Darien Freeman, said he had a class with no instructor and taught himself from a book. One former teacher said grades from instructors were considered a “suggestion” that could be overruled by school leaders. Another complained about the school’s relaxed stance on attendance and completing coursework.
The Times found at least 17 Bellevue football players who attended the program over the past seven years.
Students at a private school without a football team can play for a public-school team in their home district. Student-athletes in Bellevue need a 2.0 grade-point average, with no more than one failing grade, to be eligible to play.
Olson said he wasn’t sure whether The Times’ story would trigger a broader review of Academic Institute.
Jennifer Vice, the school director at Academic Institute, declined last week to discuss issues identified by The Times. She issued a statement Monday, disputing various issues raised by the teachers, parent and student. She said athletes account for a small percentage of the students the school serves and that they don’t receive special privileges.
While the football team’s website continues to promote its upcoming season opener as being televised on ESPN, the school district said Tuesday that the school declined the broadcasting agreement in July.
The month before, the school had self-reported violations, saying it found that Bellevue football coaches had encouraged players to participate in out-of-season activities and, against the rules, had provided cash to a player. Butch Goncharoff, the head coach, was suspended for this season’s first two games.
The earlier investigation was triggered by a parent’s complaint that a player had been bullied by a former coach. Results from this investigation never rose to the level of the WIAA, because the school self-reported violations and suggested sanctions, which were accepted by its league, the KingCo Conference.
The WIAA doesn’t initiate investigations and only steps in to investigate when a school or league makes a request and includes potential violations or evidence.
After the independent investigator
Colbrese said he would hope that individuals would step forward and cooperate with the independent investigation. When the school district conducted its investigation earlier this year, Vice declined an interview.