Over the past few years, members of the Kingston community have complained to the North Kitsap School District that some of its athletes transfer to play at North Kitsap High School due to many of its superior programs.
The issue came up again in mid-October, shortly after the NK vs. Kingston football game that resulted in a 49-6 blowout win for the Vikings.
Kingston parent Juan Hernandez sent an email to NKSD superintendent Laurynn Evans alleging that NK football coaches are recruiting students. “A good number of players on the NK team were players that live in Kingston and should be attending Kingston but instead go to NK as they are recruited by coaches,” Hernandez claims in the email.
That would be against the rules of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. It states that “transferring from one high school to another for the sake of participation in the athletic program(s) violates the WIAA and may result in athletic ineligibility for one calendar year from the date of violation.” Additionally, if a student is transferring high schools either from another district or within NKSD, and intend to participate in athletics at the varsity level, they may need to appear before the West Central District Eligibility Committee.
When asked if there are loopholes that allow students to say they are transferring for an accepted reason when it’s really for sports, NKSD communications coordinator Jenn Markaryan said she doesn’t see that come up in transfer requests but it is possible.
”A person, I suppose, could if they chose to but we would hope that families are really taking these transfers that are allowed by law as something that is truly benefitting their child in one of those areas,” she said.
Hernandez adds in his email that the NK football team has substantially more players than Kingston. “Where is the equality in this? How is this allowed to happen and continue every year?” Hernandez also raised concerns about how the Kingston football team always has to play at NK and how NK has more athletic resources. “We are only asking for equality and equity in the school district and to feel like our kid’s needs are addressed just as those of NK’s are.”
NKSD director of secondary schools Craig Barry said the school’s ASB and athletic boosters are responsible for raising money for things like uniforms and equipment while larger things like replacing turf, track surfaces and tennis courts are funded by the levies that are passed by voters. Barry also said WIAA reclassifications will be announced in the fall/winter of 2023, meaning some schools or specific teams in the Olympic League may be moving up to 3A or down to 1A.
For athletics, NK has 630 participants in all sports in 2022 while Kingston has 394. In 2021, NK had 540 and Kingston 335, and in 2020 NK had 713 and Kingston 471. Markaryan said 2020 and more specifically 2021 were impacted by COVID restrictions.
“NK right now is pretty dominant in the (Olympic) league, not just here in North Kitsap,” she said. “I think part of that is just the development of the program itself. When you have time to really develop and grow a program that works really well, that’s going to sustain itself for quite a while. With North, they have longstanding coaches, they got some really strong programs that have been around for a really long time. I think that really is more what you see in what we’re seeing come out of NK from a sports standpoint.”
Markaryan said KHS is a special school. “It’s a great school with some amazing people. From the athletics standpoint, there’s been some resurgence of families working with their boosters to really grow the athletic program. Being a school that’s only 15 years old, it doesn’t have the generations of folks yet. I think we’ll see that over time.”
This year, enrollment at NKHS is 990 compared with Kingston’s 574. Markaryan said those numbers are consistent with the past few years with the exception of 2020-21 due to the pandemic.
“NKHS is consistently higher than KHS in enrollment by between 350 and 400 students,” she said. “NKHS serves a higher/more densely populated boundary area, with a smaller geographical footprint.”
With NK at the top of the list for in-district transfers and Kingston toward the bottom, Markaryan said KHS boundaries push out pretty far into the Poulsbo area, meaning more families have to decide which school works best for their child.
“I think there is always a place for us to really dig in and look at some of the reasons why maybe this is happening,” she said. “You will have families who need to make those decisions based on proximity to their work and other families who may be able to help out their student’s care (picking up and dropping off from school). Geographically, this is one of the things we may see but we are always looking into what are the program offerings and what can we do to keep kids in their neighborhood home schools.”
In the last few years, the district has started its Shared Program between NK and Kingston that offers students the chance to take an elective at one school or the other. Offerings at Kingston include American Sign Language, Robotics and Natural Resources/Environmental Science. “With the size of our schools and district, we really can’t offer all the same programs at both high schools because there’s just not enough students and staff ratio to make that happen,” Markaryan said.
At a recent North Kitsap School Board meeting, a report was provided showing statistics on transfers.
The report shows the schools where students within the district transferred to this year. North Kitsap High School was at the top of the list at 27%, followed by Poulsbo Middle School at 12%, Poulsbo Elementary 11%, Wolfle Elementary 11%, Suquamish Elementary 10%, Gordon Elementary 9%, Pearson Elementary 7%, Kingston High School 6%, Vinland Elementary 5% and Kingston Middle School at 3%.
The report, given Nov. 10, says transfers may be granted if: financial, educational, safety or health condition affecting student would be improved; attendance at other school is more accessible to guardian’s place of work; there is a special hardship or condition affecting student; guardian is an employee; or there is acceptable room within the classroom, program or grade level at the requested school.
Additionally, transfers can be denied if: the district will experience a significant financial hardship; the student’s disciplinary records or other documentation indicate a history of violent or disruptive behavior or gang membership; or the student has been expelled or suspended for more than 10 consecutive days.
Since 1990, school districts have offered student transfers within attendance boundaries. This year, 257 NKSD students are attending a school outside of their home boundary area, down from last year’s 439. The main reason for the downtrend is due to the continued implementation of the closed school policy at the elementary and middle school levels in order to keep enrollment, staffing and schools stable, documents say.
“We have been closed to new in-district transfers at all (schools) but NKHS and KHS for the last couple years,” Markaryan said.
Exceptions to the closed school policy include students with siblings who have already been accepted and are currently enrolled in the requested school; elementary students who wish to continue in their school’s feeder pattern to middle school; and students of full-time school employees.
An “open” school designation means that the school is not at enrollment or program capacity and that it is therefore able to accept students from outside its attendance area. But, even though a school may be designated as “open,” there may be grade levels or programs that are at capacity and unable to accept students. A “closed” designation means the school is at enrollment or program capacity.