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Court Upholds Enrollment Requirement for Athletic Eligibility

The Michigan Court of Appeals has rejected a claim that home schooled students have a right to participate in extracurricular interscholastic athletic programs in the school districts where they reside. This decision by the Court of Appeals, Reid, et al. v Kenowa Hills Public Schools, et al., affirms that the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and school districts can require students to be enrolled in and passing at least twenty credit hours (per week) in order to be eligible to participate in athletics.

The parents of a group of home schooled students claimed that the enrollment requirement violated their statutory and constitutional rights. The parents primarily relied on an earlier Michigan Supreme Court case, Snyder v Charlotte Public School Dist, which held that private school students have a statutory right to enroll in "non-core" classes at public schools. Therefore, the parents argued in their lawsuit against the MHSAA and several school districts that extracurricular athletic programs are non-core classes because they are offered as an extension of the classroom and are part of a school district's educational mission.

The Court of Appeals, however, was unwilling to accept the plaintiffs' interpretation of the Snyder case. The Court recognized the legal distinction between non-core programs and extracurricular activities, emphasizing that participation in interscholastic sports is a privilege, not a right: "[B]ased on the fact that Michigan statutory and case law merely allows a school district to participate in interscholastic athletics and does not mandate such participation, we conclude that Michigan law does not provide plaintiffs with a basis for a legitimate claim of entitlement to participation in interscholastic athletics."

Accordingly, the Court held that Michigan statutes do not require public schools to admit home schooled students to their athletic programs and, thus, the students do not have a statutory right to participate in extracurricular athletic events.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the parents' constitutional claims. The Court concluded that MHSAA's enrollment regulation does not violate the parents' constitutional right to freely practice their religion by educating their students at home. Additionally, the Court refused to accept the parents' argument that the enrollment regulation deprived them of their rights to equal protection of the law.

This case is another great example of school districts and the MASB Legal Trust Fund working together to achieve a legal decision that benefits all Michigan school districts. In addition to filing an amicus curiae brief in support of the school districts, the Legal Trust Fund provided financial support to help defray the legal costs of defending the lawsuit. If your board would like to become a member of the Legal Trust Fund or request assistance from the Fund, please contact Brad Banasik, MASB Legal Counsel.