Joanne Rice dropped her youngest child off to take the SATs at Franklin Towne Charter the morning of May 4, thinking her son, Lonnie Rice, a junior football standout at Bishop McDevitt, would be one step closer to opening doors that would change his life forever.

Instead, she said, one closed in his face. An official from the school disputes that characterization.

“I dropped him off,” Joanne Rice, 44, said in a telephone interview on May 9, “and he called me on the phone about 5 to 10 minutes later and said, ‘Mom, you have to come back and get me … they’re not letting me in to take my test.’ ”

Rice, 17, told his mother that two adults at the testing site told him the photo on his Pennsylvania learner’s permit for drivers, which he presented as photographic identification, was too dark to identify him and therefore he could not take the test there that day.

It would have been the first SAT attempt for Rice, who has scholarship offers from Army, Navy, and Air Force, among others, and strong interest from Penn. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback and defensive back had been preparing for the test once a week for about the last 18 months.

Shortly before he was denied admission to the test, Rice said he had also presented his printable SAT admission ticket, which had his photo and personal information — name, date of birth and address — all of which, Rice and his mother said, matched his learner’s permit.

In an email to The Inquirer on Tuesday afternoon, Patrick Field, Franklin Towne Charter’s chief academic officer, wrote: “the SAT admission clerk was unable to match the student’s picture on his admission ticket to the picture on the ID that he presented.”

Field also wrote that Rice was given an opportunity to supply an acceptable form of ID and could not. Field, who described himself as the SAT supervisor, added that Rice was also “given the opportunity to call his mother and have her bring an acceptable form of ID.”

When The Inquirer followed up Tuesday evening, Rice and his mother vehemently denied that anyone at the school that day told them that they could present another acceptable form of identification. Rice said he called his mother so that she could pick him up, not because an adult said she could bring another form of identification.

Joanne Rice said that she keeps all of her son’s important information in her pocketbook and would have presented it if given the chance.

The ID cards used by Lonnie Rice at his SAT exam.
Courtesy of Lonnie Rice
The ID cards used by Lonnie Rice at his SAT exam.

Both Rice and his mother admit the photo on his government-issued learner’s permit is dark, but they said it still should have been recognizable, especially in conjunction with the clearly visible photo on his SAT admission ticket. Later, Joanne Rice said she questioned to herself whether her son’s race was a factor, though she made no accusations during her interactions at the school.

Rice said a woman was first to deny him admission. She then called a man over who also, Rice said, told him he couldn’t be identified by the photo.

“Even though it’s a [dark] picture,” Rice said, “you can still see the features if you actually look at the picture …”

The adults, he said, were not persuaded and told him he had to leave because the doors to the site were due to close at 8 a.m. He called his mother at 7:57 a.m., according to her phone log.

“Stuff like that can tear a child down and make him lose confidence,” Joanne Rice said. “And especially because of [adults]. Are you serious? You have to show [kids] a better way. There’s a solution to every problem. They didn’t even try to find a solution at all.”

Joanne Rice said she turned her car around to retrieve her son from Franklin Towne Charter, located at what was once the Frankford Arsenal site. She tried to talk to the two adults who said they couldn’t identify her son by the learner’s permit photo.

In her first interview with The Inquirer, she said, “there was no reasoning with them at all.” She said that both people, a woman and a man, were “nonchalant” and “rude” during the interaction that ended, she said, when the man closed and locked the door while she was still pleading her son’s case.

Franklin Towne Charter has come under public scrutiny in the past.

In 2018, an official in the Philadelphia School District’s charter schools office was concerned that a prospective student was denied admission to the school after it was learned, the family alleged, that the student had special needs. Also in 2018, a teacher was arrested for alleged corruption of minors, according to Philadelphia Magazine. In 2016, a former elementary school principal filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the school after he was fired, he said, for raising several concerns to the board chair about the school’s operations.

Rice, a two-time, first team All-Catholic League selection by league coaches as a sophomore and junior, had been attending SAT prep classes for about the last 18 months at Focused Athletics, a nonprofit organization that provides academic tutoring, mentoring, workout sessions, and more for athletes in and around Philadelphia.

Lonnie Rice (left) and his mother, Joanne Rice
Courtesy of Lonnie Rice
Lonnie Rice (left) and his mother, Joanne Rice

“He was so prepared for that test,” said Jackson Duncan, founder of Focused Athletics. “When you’re looking at schools like West Point and Navy, those tests are everything …”

“It’s highly competitive getting into [those schools],” Duncan added. “They have a pool of Lonnie Rices all over the country, and he doesn’t even have a score right now.”

McDevitt football coach Mike Watkins called Rice a “date-your-daughter kind of young man,” and added that Rice was a leader on and off the field and an excellent student.

Rice has since rescheduled his test for June and will take it at a different location.

Field ended his email with, “We regret if there has been any misunderstanding of the procedures we must follow.”

On the school’s website, Franklin Towne Charter, which won the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence award from the U.S. Department of Education in 2014, advises its students to register for the SAT via the College Board website.

According to College Board, a not-for-profit organization created “to expand access to higher education,” photo identification must be “unexpired,” issued by the government or the current school of the test taker, bear the full legal name as it appears on the SAT admission ticket, be “recognizable” to the student’s current appearance and the appearance on the SAT admission ticket, be in good condition and be “a clearly visible photograph.”

“Honestly,” Rice said, “I was prepared and I was ready.”

“I was ready, like, I was gonna do well on the test,” he added later. ”When I went in there and all that happened, that just kind of shook me a little bit …"

Joanne Rice, however, said she wouldn’t let her son’s confidence to be shaken. Instead, she says she turned it into a teachable moment.

“We had a nice, long talk,” said Joanne Rice, who also has two daughters. “I told him you can’t put yourself in situations that let people close the door on you in anything in life.”