State Representative Ty Burns of Pawnee guides Interim Study of Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA)

Oklahoma City – State Representative Ty Burns, R-Pawnee, took a deep dive look into the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) during an interim study held this past week before the House Common Education Committee.

Burns, a former public school teacher and coach, requested the study to examine discrepancies in policies related to the eligibility of student athletes who transfer from one school to another, specifically Rule 8 in the OSSAA manual as it pertains to Title 70.

He also questioned the organization’s finances and its overall purpose.

“I believe the OSSAA has become out of control, taking money from parents and schools to fund their investment firm while dictating parental choice all at the expense of children,” Burns said.

“Why do we allow the OSSAA to restrict the educational experience of the kids in our state?”

The OSSAA is made up of more than 430 school districts. In addition to high school athletics, the association also oversees competition in other areas such as speech and debate, music and electronic sports. The association is governed by a 12-member board representing school districts from across the state.

Burns pointed to the fact that according to nonprofit tracker ProPublica, the OSSAA reported almost $6 million in revenue for fiscal year 2021, with the executive director making $173,891, plus 18% of his salary as a retirement benefit that can be accessed six months after retirement. Other directors’ salaries ranged from $111,900 down to $63,953, with other employees making between $49,850 to 35,000.

He told committee members and other attendees not to take his word for these claims, but instead shared the words of parents who have reached out to him through letters and other forms of communication.

One parent wrote that it was clear there was no interest in collaboration with parents even to benefit student athletes. He said he knew of several parents who had petitioned OSSAA for hardship waivers to transfer their children to other schools, but waivers were only awarded after the parents engaged legal counsel.

Several parents spoke during the study detailing their experience in trying to get a hardship waiver granted by OSSAA only to have their children classified as ineligible for a year when they moved schools.

Burns said currently, if a student athlete transfers to a school district outside of where they live, that student has to sit out a year before being eligible to participate in their chosen sport. This takes away an entire year of experience from students who already have a very limited playing window.

This is despite the Legislature’s passage and Gov. Kevin Stitt signing into law Senate Bill 783 in 2021, which permits open transfer of students from one school to another as long as the receiving school has room for the student.

Kevin Sain, an Idabel attorney who has represented several students in appeals before OSSAA, said the organization treats every transfer as if it were sports related while there are many reasons a family might transfer districts.

“The OSSAA is failing families and children in Oklahoma,” Sain said.

“Rules need to be changed to ensure a fair and just transfer system.”

Burns said, “The concern is the potential harm this causes our student athletes who for any number of reasons might wish to transfer schools but continue to play the sports they love and that they may plan to pursue after high school.”

Sain said the criteria for approving a hardship waiver needs to be defined clearly.

“It can’t be a secret recipe just for them,” he said.

Burns also suggested board members receive additional training regarding the rules and the reasons for granting hardship waivers.

In the letter Burns quoted, the parent went on to say he believes organizations such as OSSAA are necessary, but he wonders if OSSAA has lost sight of who it is ultimately serving – student athletes.

Burns last session ran House Bill 3968, which would have allowed students who transfer during the summer break to a school district outside of where they currently reside to maintain their eligibility to participate in sports. The bill also would have allowed transfer students who are dependents of active uniformed military personnel to be exempt from the one-year waiting period. If the student transferred during the academic year, or more than once, their eligibility would be determined by the OSSAA.

The bill would not have changed current recruiting rules and would have allowed superintendents to remain the deciding factor on whether or not to approve or deny a student’s transfer.

The bill failed to receive enough votes to pass out of the House Common Education Committee and did not advance. That sparked the request for this week’s study.

Rep. Burns said he’ll file similar legislation for the upcoming session, which starts February 6, 2023.

Other participants in the study included OSSAA Executive Director David Jackson who spoke on the role of OSSAA and detailed the eligibility waiver process and other rules of the association.

Guthrie Superintendent Mike Simpson gave insight into his role as a board member of OSSAA, and Mill Creek Superintendent Lorinda Chancellor gave her opinions as an administrator and a board member working with OSSAA.