Ohio Department of Education concludes investigation, deems Bishop Sycamore 'a scam'

·4 min read

State investigators concluded that Bishop Sycamore "is not a school as it purports on paper to be," according to the findings of a months-long probe released Friday.

In a 41-page report commissioned by the Ohio Department of Education, investigators wrote that Bishop Sycamore – which drew media scrutiny after its football team played a game against IMG Academy on ESPN – did not appear to have a physical location where classes were held nor a qualified roster of teachers.

The ODE was unable to verify other basic information about the so-called school but determined that it did not meet minimum state requirements.

"The facts suggest that Bishop Sycamore High School was, and is, in fact, a scam," the ODE's investigators wrote in the report.

The findings broadly discredit public statements about Bishop Sycamore that had been made by its leadership, including director Andre Peterson and football coach Roy Johnson. Peterson and Johnson did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

A Bishop Sycamore punter is upended against Archbishop Hoban on Aug. 19.  Since 2020, Bishop Sycamore is winless and has been outscored 342-49.
A Bishop Sycamore punter is upended against Archbishop Hoban on Aug. 19. Since 2020, Bishop Sycamore is winless and has been outscored 342-49.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who asked the ODE in September to investigate Bishop Sycamore, said in a statement that the report's findings confirmed "numerous disturbing allegations" about the fictitious school.

"I am today asking Attorney General (Dave) Yost and other offices with jurisdiction to determine whether the alleged deception by Bishop Sycamore violated any civil or criminal laws," he said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the state attorney general's office said its charitable trust section looked into Bishop Sycamore earlier this fall but found "no authority to take action."

"With the Governor’s broader request, we are examining other sources for legal authority and will respond soon," the spokesperson, Bethany McCorkle, wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports.

The conclusion of the ODE investigation comes more than three months after Bishop Sycamore's 58-0 loss to IMG Academy – a game so lopsided that it prompted both concerns about the health and welfare of the players and questions about the legitimacy of Bishop Sycamore as an academic institution.

Bishop Sycamore had been registered with the state of Ohio as a non-chartered, non-tax supported (NCNT) school – a classification available to private schools with "truly held religious beliefs." Because they do not receive a charter or any tax benefits, those schools are not individually approved or vetted by the state.

The inherent lack of oversight led the ODE to include Bishop Sycamore on its list of NCNT schools for the 2020-21 academic year, despite concerns from staff about its legitimacy. According to the ODE report, there were questions about whether the department had authority to leave Bishop Sycamore off the list when its paperwork met state requirements.

The fictitious school was not closely investigated until Gov. DeWine requested the probe in September.

In the months that followed, investigators said they repeatedly asked Bishop Sycamore for documents, with no response. They also made an unannounced visit to the physical address listed for the school – an athletic complex – on Oct. 26. The complex's director of business development told ODE that Bishop Sycamore rented the space only sporadically and had paid less than $1,000 total in rent.

Then, on Nov. 16, ODE investigators wrote that they received an email from Peterson and Johnson, requesting a meeting. In a conference call two days later, Peterson said, among other things, that Bishop Sycamore had "four to five kids" in school but 40 athletes on the football team. He had told USA TODAY Sports earlier this fall that the school had between 75 and 80 students. Meanwhile, the total enrollment listed on paperwork filed with the state earlier this year was one student.

Peterson also said Bishop Sycamore provided "religious study" that was not included on its official documentation, but declined to specify. The ODE said it was unable to identify what religious beliefs Bishop Sycamore claimed as the basis for it to register as an NCNT school, let alone if they are "truly held."

"Bishop Sycamore was a way for students to play football against high school teams and potentially increase students' prospects of playing football at the collegiate level," the ODE said in the report.

"The cost of this dream for those students wasn't just the tuition charged to attend the school. The price was the education the students were entitled to receive."

The ODE report also includes seven recommendations – steps that can be taken by other entities, or in conjunction with them, to avoid future Bishop Sycamores from emerging. One of those recommendations is to "consult with the Attorney General regarding potential legal action" against the fictitious school.

"Each child in Ohio is entitled to an education of high quality. That includes the children at Bishop Sycamore," the ODE investigators concluded. "Indeed, each child at Bishop Sycamore deserves better."

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bishop Sycamore: State investigation concludes school is 'a scam'