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Originally published Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Tony Wroten's Garfield enrollment terminated

Last Friday afternoon, Garfield High School informed sophomore Tony Wroten that effective at 2:15 p.m. that day, he would no longer be a...

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Last Friday afternoon, Garfield High School informed sophomore Tony Wroten that effective at 2:15 p.m. that day, he would no longer be a Garfield student.

That same day, the Seattle School District sent an e-mail to Wroten's lawyer and, by messenger, a packet to his parents, informing them that Wroten's enrollment had been terminated. After a district investigation, based largely on surveillance of the Wrotens' rented home in Seattle, the district had concluded that Wroten's primary residence was in Renton, not Seattle.

The termination could mean that the 6-foot-4 guard, one of the country's premier basketball recruits, does not play high-school basketball this school year. But the bigger issue, father Tony Wroten Sr. contends, is that Wroten will not be in school until the situation is resolved.

"There's a 15-year-old kid involved here," Wroten Sr. said. "Our son's education is involved."

The district is claiming that, though the Wrotens rented a home a block from Garfield this fall, Tony Wroten himself lives in Renton in the home his father owns. Seattle Public Schools spokesman David Tucker said the district was convinced, after observing the Seattle home, that Tony Wroten did not live there. He said that such surveillance is not an unusual method for the school district in verifying addresses.

The Wrotens have combed the surveillance log and don't understand how the district reached this conclusion.

"This is where me, my son and my daughter live," Shirley Wroten, Tony's mother, said from the Central District home Monday evening.

According to the surveillance log presented to the Wrotens, a school district investigator watched the Seattle home on seven mornings over the course of four weeks.

On three Fridays, the investigator noted that Tony Wroten was dropped off at the Seattle home before going to school, indicating he had spent the previous night somewhere else. In one instance, the Wrotens say, he stayed in Renton with his father because his mother was in Los Angeles. In another, he had stayed the night at a friend's house.

The investigator also found that Wroten was dropped off at home on a Monday morning, which Shirley Wroten says is routine because they often spend weekends at the Renton home.

"But ninety percent of the time, I've been here," she said of the Seattle residence.

On the three other mornings, the investigator did not see Wroten get out of a car before school. On one of those mornings, a Monday, the investigator deduced that the Wrotens had parked that morning later than the other cars on their block, based on comparing "dew marks."

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The investigator began one of the mornings outside Wroten's father's home in Renton and saw no sign of Tony Wroten. But a neighbor apparently noticed the surveillance car because a Renton police officer was dispatched to investigate a suspicious vehicle.

The Wrotens say they cannot figure out why the school district never approached them personally, or even their Seattle landlord, who works for Seattle Public Schools. Tucker said that once the district has sufficient evidence that a student isn't a resident, it must terminate that student's enrollment immediately.

"They never knocked on the door," said Wroten family lawyer James Bible. "There are so many questions that ending his ability to go to school this year at Garfield was incredibly premature."

Shirley Wroten spent Monday morning getting neighbors to sign a petition stating that the she and her son live in their home in Seattle, and she also received several letters from neighbors stating the same. She faxed them, along with rent receipts, to the school district's legal office and brought them to the office in person.

The Wrotens, adamant their son belongs at Garfield, do not know what options lay ahead if the school district doesn't reverse its decision. Bible said Monday he wasn't sure what actions of recourse exist.

"It is deeply disappointing that at this stage, the Seattle School District has decided to make a unilateral decision that so adversely affects one of their students," Bible said, later adding, "The bottom line is what needs to happen is the kid needs to get back into school."

Tom Wyrwich: 206-515-5653 or twyrwich@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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