California Department of Ed: No pay for play at Torrey Pines

The California Department of Education has found no evidence that Torrey Pines High School’s baseball program violated the law and required students to pay to play on the team. The San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) received the California Department of Education’s (CDE) decision on Aug. 28.

Parent Wendy Gumb submitted her complaint to the district in January and appealed the district’s findings to the CDE in June.

The CDE decision concluded that the evidence in the complaint “failed to support a conclusion that students were required to participate in a fee-based AAU baseball program or make a donation to the Foundation in order to make the official TPHS spring baseball team.”

The CDE also found that baseball club teams operated by the TPHS Foundation outside of the regular season (the AAU Falcons) were separate from district-operated programs, so the related fees charged by the TPHS Foundation were permissible.

“We’ve always known that the team’s success comes from the hard work, talent, and dedication of our outstanding student athletes and coaches,” said SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill in a statement. “Our parents know when they choose to support our foundations that they are providing better opportunities for all students. We are grateful for their generosity.”

Gumb said the CDE’s response focused mainly on unlawful pupil fees and that a number of other issues in her complaint still need to be addressed.

“No one is protecting our students when coaches are allowed to operate within a loophole,” Gumb said. “It’s time to close the loophole.”

In her complaint, Gumb alleged that students were “required” to make a donation to play on the TPHS baseball team and that the Foundation kept track of who paid and sent out reminders to those who failed to pay. She also alleged that individuals associated with the baseball team were given exclusive access to players and TPHS facilities to run club sports like the AAU team.

The CDE’s evidence for its findings included emails from private accounts of parent liaisons of the TPHS Foundation and photographs of a clipboard with names of students and a column with the heading “Paid” which was left at a table during baseball registration.

The district found that emails were sent requesting a “minimum donation” of $695. Although the evidence indicates most students provided donations, three to seven students do not donate and there is no evidence that failing to donate had any effect on student participation in the program.

“The interviews indicate that none of the coaches ever knew which students had or had not donated to the Foundation,” the CDE report stated.

The Foundation runs the club baseball team the AAU Falcons in the fall and winter and does charge players to play on the club team, but the CDE found no evidence that the district requires students to play on the club team and no evidence that the district provides preferential treatment to those who play.

“There were students who played on the Foundation’s AAU team who were ultimately cut from the TPHS team and students who did not play on the Foundation’s AAU team and still made the TPHS team,” the CDE report states.

The CDE report did find the district needed a stronger response to Gumb’s complaint that the Torrey Pines boys volleyball team was unlawfully charged a transportation fee. Per Gumb’s complaint, the boys volleyball team was required to ride the bus for away games and if they did not ride the bus they did not play. In order to ride the bus, they had to pay a transportation fee.

SDUHSD found itself out of compliance in the its own investigation and stated they would take corrective actions, providing reimbursements to any player who felt the fee was mandatory, which Gumb’s complaint said was “insufficient.”

The CDE agreed on that point, determining that SDUHSD’s proposed remedy was not compliant with the education code and that “reasonable efforts at reimbursement cannot include a requirement that an affected party demonstrate that they believed the fee was mandatory rather than voluntary.”

“By finding itself out of compliance, the district determined that the fee was in fact mandatory,” the CDE report states.

The CDE’s corrective actions are that by Sept. 15, the district shall submit evidence that it made reasonable efforts to identify all pupils and guardians who paid a transportation fee. By Oct. 15, the district must submit evidence it has made reasonable efforts to fully reimburse all pupils that have been identified.

One item in Gumb’s initial complaint the district has yet to address is the use of school batting cages by outside entities related to an agreement with the foundation. Over the summer, Gumb continued to observe use of the batting cage by a walk-on TPHS baseball coach and another local baseball organization affiliated with the TPHS coaching staff. Gumb said she believes the practice is illegal and should not be allowed to continue.

The district has stated it will take appropriate actions to ensure that all facilities uses are in accordance with board policy and the batting cage agreement is expected to be addressed by the board at a future meeting.

Since concluding its investigation, district officials have worked closely with administrators and foundation staff to ensure requests for voluntary donations continue to comply with the law. It recently held two trainings with legal counsel, staff, and parent organization representatives, and will schedule additional training once the school year begins.

“Our parents want the best for their kids and the Torrey Pines High School Foundation helps make that happen,” TPHS Foundation Executive Director Nicole Baril said in a release. “We couldn’t be happier with this affirmation from CDE. We hope we can put this controversy behind us and get back to focusing on providing what is in the best interests of our students.”

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