Lawyer plans homeless defense

DeAngelo Casto has hit plenty of red tape on the path to playing basketball since he returned to Ferris High School in late October.

Ruled ineligible to compete by a District 8 committee three weeks ago because of transfer guidelines, Casto has another chance Monday to suit up this season in the scarlet and silver.

This time his attorney, Ray Clary, believes he has a fail-safe argument for Casto’s eligibility appeal.

“As a matter of federal law, he can participate,” Clary said. “That preempts the WIAA and any state-based rights.”

He was referring to Casto’s status as a McKinney-Vento student, recognized under federal law as homeless.

Such students are guaranteed quick and unencumbered enrollment into a public school and all of its opportunities – including athletics. School-to-school transfer deadlines, for example, don’t count.

“Those types of policies need to be flexible for homeless students so they’re not barred from participation,” said Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

In 2006, and this year when he returned to Ferris, school counselors determined Casto was a McKinney-Vento candidate, Clary said. The local homeless-education federal liaison, Edith Sims, agreed.

Casto’s recent relocations – he moved to Seattle in the summer due to family reasons, and left Franklin High School to return to Spokane – qualified him for the federal recognition, Clary said.

His mother stayed in Seattle and he is currently living at the home of a former assistant coach.

“This is a kid that’s in circumstances that are determined by others’ decisions that were out of his control,” Clary said. “But he’s overcome enormous hurdles. And it’s had zero to do with basketball, but everything to do with finding a place” to call home.

The District 8 eligibility committee, made up of administrators within the Greater Spokane League, ruled on Nov. 20 that Casto is ineligible to play for Ferris this season.

“What I can tell you is that WIAA rules on transfers say anytime you move without the whole family unit it is considered a transfer,” GSL secretary Randy Ryan told The Spokesman-Review after Casto was denied eligibility.

Unless deemed a hardship under association guidelines, a transfer cannot play varsity for a year, Ryan explained. WIAA rules state, he said, it is not a hardship if a move is made by choice of the student or student’s family.

At Casto’s eligibility hearing Monday, Clary plans to introduce the high school senior’s McKinney-Vento status as new evidence that he should be cleared to compete. An appeal of an earlier eligibility hearing, such as Casto’s first on Nov. 20, requires new information.

A WIAA hearing officer will travel to Spokane to listen to the appeal, said Jim Meyerhoff, assistant executive director of the WIAA. Afterward, the officer will report to Executive Director Mike Colbrese, who will make a decision.

Colbrese has five business days after Monday’s hearing to decide Casto’s eligibility. If Casto is again found ineligible, the next appeal would be to the state Superior Court.

“I believe he is a deserving kid,” Clary said, “and we’re going to continue to work for him, whatever process is required.”

For now, Clary is working on Casto’s case pro bono. If it goes to court, Clary may reconsider, he said.

“It’s about our moral obligation as a community to help at-risk kids connect” with their community, Clary said.

Casto’s return to Ferris has spawned recent criticism from people who believe it’s unfair the 6-foot-8 athlete can bounce from school to school. But Clary said the eligibility controversy is about Casto’s rights under the federal statute, and about his opportunities in Spokane.

“Ask yourself, if he played the trumpet, would they be opposing him?” Clary said of the detractors. “Grace willing, they wouldn’t.”

Last season, when the Ferris Saxons went 29-0 to win the State 4A championship, Casto led his team in rebounds and postseason scoring with 16.9 points per game. And he was named to the Greater Spokane League’s all-league team.

This season, Casto has been practicing with the team but not competing.

Ferris coach Don Van Lierop did not return numerous voice messages seeking comment. Principal Erik Ohlund did not comment because of student confidentiality, nor did Franklin principal Jennifer Wiley and basketball coach Jason Kerr.

Shadle Park coach Tim Gaebe, for one, said he has no plans for recourse if Casto wins his eligibility appeal.

“That’s Ferris’ business and his family’s business,” Gaebe said, adding: “I know our league denied it and that says something about it right there.”


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