Prime Prep Academy, the charter school that Deion Sanders co-founded last year and was fired from last week, is known for its suspicious tendency to attract some of the top high school athletes in the country.
Now, the parents of those athletes say they were misled by school officials and their kids may be unable to accept NCAA scholarships, let alone graduate, because the school doesn't offer enough courses and the courses that are offered aren't very good.
Whether or not Sanders ever gets his job as a coach back "doesn't matter to me," says Tasha Avery, whose son James was awarded football scholarships to three universities. She's upset because her son hoped to pursue chemical engineering once he got into college. But his science classes at Prime Prep aren't giving him the right credits to pursue the major in higher ed. "He doesn't feel like he's being taught to prepare him for college, " Avery says.
Other issues include basic building maintenance and a feeling among parents that they are being ignored by school administrators.
"You go outside and look at the trash out there, that trash has been there for almost a year," one parent said. "There's so many parents that are not involved, but these folks want to be involved, and they keep getting told, 'no,' or 'We're working on it.'"
For a school that's accepting taxpayer money, academics are the most glaring issue, and the NCAA has already noticed. Last year, the NCAA revoked two basketball scholarships for Prime Prep grads after deciding that a core class they took didn't meet academic guidelines, although the decision was then successfully appealed.
School officials now openly admit that students are again at risk of losing their NCAA scholarships this year because of the curriculum.
"This year we're likely in the same position, we have a potential of seven Division 1 athletes who will be ineligible for Division 1 sports because the curriculum is not acceptable to the NCAA," says school board President T. Chris Lewis.
Parents and the school board shied away from criticizing Deion Sanders, instead praising his "vision." But they say that when it comes down to logistics, the school is terribly run. For that, they blame the person who is in charge of the academic curriculum, Superintendent Rachel Sanders. (She's not related to Deion, though she is the person who fired him last week).
Only the school board has the power to fire Ms. Sanders, and on Friday night, Lewis held a meeting with plans to review her employment. Two other board members and a few angry parents showed up as well to complain, despite the icy roads. But neither Sanders was there.
And the meeting didn't happen. Just as Lewis reviewed the agenda, an attorney sitting in the audience stood up and announced that the meeting was illegal.
"There is no quorum present," said Kimberly Carlisle, an attorney who was recently appointed by Ms. Sanders. According to Carlisle, there are a total of six people on the school board, only half of which were there Friday, so therefore, no quorum.
The board members say that there should only be five people on the school board. They say they haven't seen the sixth board member in a long time and don't think he's active. But they're not certain because they haven't been able to obtain the minutes from older board meetings. "The board secretary is refusing to give those to me, " says Lewis, the board president.
Since holding a board meeting without a quorum is a violation of the public meetings act, a misdemeanor, Lewis canceled at the last minute. "We are basically at gridlock because the board cannot conduct any business, because we can't get a quorum to do anything."
The frustrated parents then turned their attention the attorney, unloading on her all of the problems they've had with the school.
Lillian Young says that her son transferred from Mansfield ISD midway through his junior year, before he finished a class called math models. School officials supposedly reviewed his transcript and told Young that her son would have no problem graduating on time. It wasn't until after he transferred that she noticed on his report card that math models wasn't there. It turned out, she says, the school didn't offer that class, or any math class to satisfy graduation requirements he needed. As a result, he had to take an online course to get his extra half of a math credit. And now, Young says, her son may have to retake more classes to accept scholarships.
"Had I been aware when we came to this school, we would have said, 'You know what, this is not the best thing for us to do,'" Young says. "We would have had that option, but no one gave us the choice. It was just like, 'Come on, come on, come on, everybody come, we got it, it's all good.'"
Carlisle, the Prime Prep attorney, said she was aware of the NCAA problems, but that Friday's meeting was the first time she heard about students not even graduating on time. She said that Rachel Sanders wanted to make it to the meeting, but couldn't because of the weather. Deion Sanders had also old Rachel Sanders that she would be fired at the meeting, Carlisle added.
"I'm sure she was a little apprehensive about what would happen this evening," Carlisle said.
The school board doesn't have the power to re-hire Deion Sanders, though Lewis says he hopes that the next superintendent, if there is one, will bring him back. But school officials mostly downplayed his role in Prime Prep, describing him as a coach who doesn't influence the academics.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Even Kevin Jefferson, the Prime Prep CFO who filed a police report against Deion Sanders accusing him of assault, portrayed the alleged assault as a minor, personal issue in the grand scheme of the other problems the school is facing. That incident led to Sanders being fired for the first time in October, but he was soon reinstated.
"I think the timing of that situation just coincided with a lot of other things that are happening with the school," he said. "I don't have a particular opinion about his employment one way or the other."
It's not the first time that the school's academics have been called into question. In fact, last year, state officials complained that when Sanders applied for his charter license, "information was missing" and "several parts of the application did not appear to have been carefully prepared or spell checked." But the state board of education granted the school its charter license anyway, so the spelling errors must not have bothered them too much.