TAMPA — Faced with an eligibility scandal in Armwood High School's championship football program, Hillsborough County superintendent MaryEllen Elia said Tuesday that the school district is working to improve the way it handles student enrollment and transfers.
Elia did not speak in detail about the Armwood situation, which could result in fines for the school and the loss of a Class 6A state title won in December.
Last week, the Florida High School Athletic Association accused five players of faking their addresses — in some cases using phony leases and electric bills — so they could play for Armwood.
"We will be responding to the FHSAA and at that time will give you an update on that situation," Elia told the School Board, adding that the school and the district athletic department are conducting their own investigation.
The inquiry comes at a time of statewide changes. A new law, prompted by a similar scandal in Lakeland, gives more discretion to school districts in deciding when a student can play for his new school. The old law required students to wait until the following school year unless they can show their entire family has moved; or in special cases such as a death in the family.
Board Chairwoman Candy Olson said the issue touches more than sports. Schools in her South Tampa district quickly become crowded, sometimes because people lie about where they live.
She proposed a more clear and stringent registration process that would ask questions of parents who have neither a homestead exemption nor a rental lease.
"We have updated so much of what we do," Olson said. "We've updated how we teach. We've updated our technology." Enrollment procedures should be updated as well, she said. "We need to make it clear that we don't accept lying as a matter of course."
Elia agreed that honesty should be a goal in itself.
"It is important for parents to understand that you are teaching your students when you don't tell the truth to a school and you enter that student into that school," she said.
In other business, Elia and board member Doretha Edgecomb thanked the nonprofit Hillsborough Education Foundation for working to fund college scholarships for the first year's graduates of the Urban Teaching Academy. The district program has struggled to honor a promise to provide tuition and book money for qualified graduates.
Elia said that besides tuition, the students will get up to $1,000 each year for books, as promised.