COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bell schedule, but no bells.
NBC4 Investigates is learning more about how a Columbus high school football team with no identifiable school building came to be identified as a school by the Ohio Department of Education.
Ohio law states that to be officially considered a non-charter, non-tax supported school, the school must be formed around “truly held religious beliefs” and submit paperwork that demonstrates an adherence to a set of minimum standards. Those standards include curriculum, attendance, and a school building that is up to code.
NBC4 Investigates requested the information Bishop Sycamore leadership submitted to ODE ahead of the 2020-21 school year and found multiple discrepancies within those 18 pages.
Bishop Sycamore High School reported an enrollment of three students during the previous school year, with a bell schedule beginning at 7:10 a.m. and ending at 3:05 p.m.
The address on the paperwork is listed as 303 South Grant Avenue in Columbus, and provides a Fire Inspection Acknowledgement for that address. But the address is Franklin University’s library.
“School officials did reach out to us to look into leasing space,” a Franklin University spokesperson told NBC4 Investigates in an email. “However, no contract was ever signed.”
The spokesperson also provided a letter of termination sent to Bishop Sycamore director Andre Peterson in 2020, after learning the high school was using the university address on official paperwork.
Supposed academic partners deny affiliation
The Bishop Sycamore paperwork also describes a partnership with two organizations: Advancing Science Worldwide and the Innovation Science and Education Foundation.
The school even includes a description of ASW in its ODE submission, which appears to be copied and pasted from the “About Us” section of ASW’s website.
ASW is a small non-profit based in Arizona, which primarily supports schools in Africa.
“Advancing Science Worldwide, Inc. never had any partnership with a school called Bishop Sycamore and we never provided them any educational materials,” the non-profit’s president, Rithvik Musuku, said in an email.
Musuku said his organization did have a fiscal sponsorship agreement with the Innovation Science and Education Foundation. According to Musuku, ASW received one donation for ISE of $104.15 before ending its relationship with the organization, which did not send in its required paperwork.
When Musuku tried to get in touch with ISE, he said phone messages were never returned and emails bounced back. He then sent a termination letter to two addresses provided by ISE.
The first address, 4200 Regent St., is an office building in Easton Town Center that has no listing for ISE or Bishop Sycamore. Musuku said the letter to this address was returned as undeliverable.
The second address belongs to a house in Blacklick, where nobody answered the door when NBC4 Investigates rang the doorbell.
Neither a Google search or a search of registered businesses in Ohio returned no results for ISE, but the termination letter from Franklin University letter links it to Peterson. Peterson has not responded to multiple attempts to reach him for comment.
ODE declined a request for an interview and has not responded to a list of questions emailed to a spokesperson.
“The Department shares Governor DeWine’s concerns about recent allegations surrounding Bishop Sycamore, and we’re committed to looking into this matter further consistent with the Governor’s request,” ODE said in a statement.
The Bishop Sycamore document also contains a “Staff and Advisory Board Listing” with eight names, including Peterson.
Former Bishop Sycamore board member speaks out
Also listed is Deryck Richardson, who owns a marketing firm in Columbus and said he used to sell insurance with former Bishop Sycamore head football coach Roy Johnson in 2018. Richardson said Johnson approached him with the idea for a school in 2019.
“Taking at-risk youth, putting them in a situation to where they can use athletics as an outlet, and giving them an education at the same time is not a terrible idea or a scam,” Richardson said.
Richardson said he was hired to do marketing for Bishop Sycamore, but then was added as a board member after Johnson realized Richardson had worked with charter schools in the past. Richardson said he ended his relationship with Bishop Sycamore after roughly two or three months.
“They had some investors, they had a couple different outlets to get funds in the beginning. And then it seemed like one after the other just fell through,” Richardson said. “Not only was Richardson Marketing Group not going to be paid for their marketing efforts, but myself — I also was not going to be paid for my advisory board seat. And so, you know, I had to step away. I just don’t work for free, and neither does my firm.”
Richardson told NBC4 Investigates he is unaware of Johnson’s dealings with Bishop Sycamore since their business relationship ended in 2019, but he still believes Johnson had good intentions when it came to the school.
Calls to a phone number linked to Johnson and Bishop Sycamore High School go straight to a voicemail, which is full.