CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The Diocese of Charleston and four private schools were named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the South Carolina High School League.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Charleston said the schools are suing the SCHSL over recent amendments that penalize their student athletes and restrict parents from fully exercising their legally protected right to school choice.
Bishop England High School in Charleston, Christ Church Episcopal School and St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, and Southside Christian School in Simpsonville are listed as the private schools.
Eight public charter schools and the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“We are participating in this lawsuit because of the League’s blatant discrimination against our students,” said Patrick Finneran, principal of Bishop England High School. “These amendments will hurt student athletes first and foremost. The South Carolina High School League oversees many games in South Carolina, but it should not be permitted to play games with the lives of South Carolina students and families.”
Maria A. Aselage, director of media relations for the Diocese of Charleston said the lawsuit claims that newly passed amendments to the SCHSL’s By-Laws that address the eligibility of students entering public charter and private schools “have impaired the right and freedom of students who enroll at Plaintiff Schools after the beginning of seventh grade to establish immediate eligibility to participate in interscholastic athletics at Plaintiff Schools, and thus discriminate improperly against the Plaintiff Schools.”
Attorney General Alan Wilson issued an opinion in April agreeing that the new SCHSL amendments likely violate numerous state laws, including a requirement in the state budget that SCHSL provide public charter and private schools the same rights and privileges as it gives to traditional public schools.
Before these recent amendments were passed, most students entering a public charter or private school after seventh grade who lived in the boundaries of the traditional public school district where the public charter or private school was located could play varsity athletics immediately, and those coming to the public charter or private school from outside the traditional public school district could play junior varsity athletics.
The new amendments ban all students entering after seventh grade from playing sports for one year unless those students happen to transfer in ninth grade and live within a narrowly-defined attendance zone.
Aselage said SCHSL has also done away entirely with junior varsity eligibility for entering students who are not otherwise eligible to play varsity sports.
“Although we are honored to be members of the SCHSL, we cannot stand by when the League makes a rule change that is targeted directly to students of public charter and private schools and not for all students in the state,” said Dr. Sam Barfell, superintendent of Southside Christian School. “These new amendments hurt students by arbitrarily infringing upon the rights of these students to fully participate in athletics and benefit from the friendship, discipline, team building and leadership opportunities that are uniquely provided through high school athletics.”
In addition to hurting students, the Diocese of Charleston said the SCHSL’s new amendments restrict parents and guardians from fully exercising their legal right to school choice by restricting the interscholastic opportunities available to students who choose public charter and private schools.
The schools and the Diocese of Charleston are requesting a temporary injunction ordering the SCHSL to cease enforcement of its new amendments. They also want the court to deem these amendments as unlawful and permanently stop the League from enforcing them.