MHSAA Can Exclude Homeschooled Students from Athletic Programs

Sep 24, 2004

A Michigan appeals court has affirmed a trial court’s ruling to dismiss a claim brought by the parents of several home-schooled students, who had claimed a public school district and the state high school athletic association were required by law to permit the students to participate in extracurricular athletic activities.
The parents sued after the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) refused to approve the students’ participation in interscholastic athletic programs. Seeking a permanent injunction, the parents claimed that the defendants violated the students’ statutory and constitutional rights. Specifically, they argued that “the denial of the right to participate in extracurricular sports activities denies them an equal opportunity to receive collegiate athletic scholarships, thereby denying them equal protection under the law.”
The trial court dismissed the claim, spawning the present appeal.
The plaintiffs argued that the trial court erred because students not enrolled in a public school are allowed to enroll in noncore programs, citing the Michigan Constitution and Snyder v Charlotte Public School Dist, 421 Mich. 517; 365 N.W.2d 151 (1984).
“In Snyder, supra, our Supreme Court held that a student enrolled in a private school that did not offer a band class could enroll in a public school’s band class because the band class was a noncore class in which the student had a statutory right to enroll. The Court defined noncore classes as nonessential elective courses that need not be taught in nonpublic schools, including classes such as science, band, shop, domestic science, and advanced math. Snyder, supra at 540.”
A key distinction in Snyder and the instant case is that the Snyder court declined to extend the noncore definition to extracurricular activities, which are not required. Attorney General v East Jackson Public Schools, 143 Mich. App. 634, 636; [*24] 372 N.W.2d 638 (1985). The Michigan courts have also found that participation in interscholastic sports “is a privilege, not a right.
“In Cardinal Mooney High School v MHSAA, 437 Mich. 75; 467 N.W.2d 21 (1991), our Supreme Court held that “compliance with MHSAA rules on the part of student athletes is an appropriate and justifiable condition of the privilege of participating in interscholastic athletics under the auspices of the MHSAA. Id. at 81, and also quoted in Kirby v MHSAA, 459 Mich. 23, 34; 585 N.W.2d 290 (1998).”
After finding that the defendants do not have to allow homeschooled students to participate in their athletic programs, the court turned to the plaintiffs’ second argument that the defendants “have conditioned participation in the extracurricular interscholastic athletic programs in such a way that it violates their right to freely practice their religion.”
Again, the court found for the defendants, noting that “because the next friends are free to be homeschooled under the MHSAA regulation, we cannot find a nexus between the plaintiffs’ right of freedom of religion and the MHSAA’s enrollment requirement. Nor can we find that the next friends have been, as they claim, ‘coerced by the Government’s action into violating their religious beliefs.'”
Lastly, the plaintiffs argued that the defendants’ enrollment requirement creates a classification scheme that deprives plaintiffs of their rights to equal protection of the law.
“The essence of plaintiffs’ contention is that the enrollment requirement is actually a scheme to benefit that class of citizens who enroll their children in public schools by doling out athletic scholarships and restricting participation,” wrote the court.
Dismissing the argument, the court wrote that the plaintiffs did not submit any evidence that there “is a legally cognizable cause of action under the Equal Protection Clause of the Michigan or United States constitutions to a right to an athletic scholarship, predicated solely upon the denial of participation because of homeschooling.”
The court concluded that “the MHSAA enrollment requirement is neutral on its face” and “is a legitimate governmental purpose.” Reid et al. v. Kenowa Hills Public Schools et al., Ct.App.Mich., No. 239473, 3/2/04
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Thomas More Law Center (by Richard Thompson and Patrick T. Gillen), in Ann Arbor. (for defendants) Thrun, Maatsch and Nordberg, P.C. (by Lisa L. Swem), for Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Ypsilanti Public School District, and Caro Community Schools, in Lansing; Edmund J. Sikorski, Jr., P.C. (by Edmund J. Sikorski, Jr.), for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, in Ann Arbor. (Amicus Curiae) Brad A. Banasik for Michigan Association of School Boards, in Lansing.


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