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Bishop Sycamore Debacle Proves Need for Ethics in Education and Athletics

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By Marjorie Sanders, MA |

When it comes to education, it is natural to assume that a high school is, well, just that: an operational, legitimate institution. However, Bishop Sycamore, based in Columbus, Ohio, has recently demonstrated the importance of transparency and ethical decision making in education. The kicker? Bishop’s operation was upended by a single, very public, football game. 

In August of 2021, during national coverage by ESPN, Bishop Sycamore’s football team lost miserably to IMG Academy. Bishop has since fired its head coach, been accused of writing fake checks, and has had no shortage of constituents calling the school’s legitimacy into question. The state of Ohio identifies Bishop Sycamore as a “non-charter, non-tax supported school,” although the school has no physical campus and offers no curriculum. Newly hired head coach Tyren Jackson has taken some version of responsibility, noting that Bishop Sycamore is actually not a school, and attributes the misconception to a mistake on paperwork. Jackson, who prior to his hire was not aware of Bishop Sycamore’s designation through the OH Department of Education, has agreed to cooperate with the state’s pending investigation into the school’s legitimacy.  

As an education professional, I find myself wondering whether the investigation into Bishop Sycamore is anything more than the treatment of a symptom instead of a cure for the cause of the problem. The assertion that Bishop’s entire existence as an accidentally designated high school is a result of a paperwork mistake is flimsy at best. The administrators who filed paperwork to establish Bishop (as anything, school or otherwise) have a responsibility to be honest in their filings, and to face the consequences if dishonesty occurred. Still, the Ohio Department of Education has an equally responsible position and must hold its own administrators accountable for the situation at hand. The OH DOE has clearly outlined requirements for applying as a non-charter, non-tax supported (NCNT) school. In addition to submitting a complete application, NCNT applicants are also required by the OH DOE to adhere to the Ohio Laws and Administrative Rules that, among other critical stipulations, mandate that every NCNT must provide curriculum in language arts, geography and local government, math, science, health, PE, fine arts, first aid and safety, and other subjects as prescribed by the school. Even if Bishop’s administrators filed incorrect paperwork—intentionally or not—the OH DOE must take its own share of responsibility in the matter; such stringent and specific requirements require a reasonable level of verification. Either Bishop Sycamore did a stellar job of falsifying information provided during the initial application process, or the Ohio Department of Education failed miserably in properly vetting Bishop as an applicant. In either scenario, Bishop’s situation is not the result of a clerical error. It is a result of negligence at best, and at worst, is a gross display of unethical conduct, intentional misrepresentation, and falsification of documentation.  

As the education landscape continues to expand, offering no shortage of delivery methods and institution types, students are inundated with potential options. How can students and their families be sure that they are selecting a legitimate institution? The Academy offers a prime example of some of the things to look for when considering a school: 

  • Accreditation. Accreditation is the result of a rigorous application and review process and demonstrates a school’s commitment to providing challenging, appropriate curriculum. Review the Academy’s accreditation information here. 
  • Contact information. A legitimate organization will have a variety of methods for contact listed on their website, and you will consistently be able to reach faculty and staff when calling or emailing. Complete USSA faculty and staff directories can be found here and here. 
  • Program availability. The programs, majors, courses, or other curriculum offered by the institution will be clearly detailed, including applicable admissions information, program or course descriptions, and terms. Review the Academy’s program information, admissions information (BSSMSSEdD), tuition rates, and course descriptions (BSSMSSEdD) 
  • Policies and procedures. Clearly defined institutional policies, procedures, expectations, and rules are a great indicator of the school’s legitimacy. Review the institution’s academic catalog for this type of information; the catalog will not only outline the policies and procedures, but will include additional information about the school as a whole: what its mission is, when it was founded, and how it serves its students. The current Academy academic catalogs can be found here. 

While this is not a comprehensive list of factors, these indicators of legitimacy can help you navigate the school-choice process a bit more confidently and avoid questionable organizations. If you’re interested in learning more about how the Academy can help you kick-off your degree plans, contact admissions@ussa.edu

Marjorie Sanders is the Academic Resource Coordinator at the United States Sports Academy, where she also serves as a faculty member. She is a creative writer whose work has appeared in multiple anthologies and literary journals; her first chapbook will be released in 2022 from Finishing Line Press. Marjorie’s research interests include the representation of women in literature, and higher education accessibility, policy, and leadership.  

Marjorie Sanders, M.A. / msanders@ussa.edu  

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