School Accused of Barring Homeless Kids From Sports

LONDON, Ky. (CN) – A middle-school student’s caregivers claim in court that a Kentucky school district refuses to allow him to play on his middle school basketball team because he is homeless.

Q.W., a minor who has “transitioned between and among different schools and residences for the majority of his life,” recently began staying with anonymous adults J.S. and S.S., according to a complaint they filed Friday in London, Ky., federal court on his behalf.

The couple was granted a one-year power-of-attorney by the boy’s parents and enrolled him at North Laurel Middle School in late October 2016.

According to the lawsuit, the school classified Q.W. as homeless, though teachers and coaches were “generally inviting, welcoming and supporting of [his] educational needs and requirements.”

“After making the basketball team, however, S.S. and J.S. were informed that the defendants would not permit Q.W. to play…due to a policy…that prohibits students from participating in sports unless the students’ parents live in the school district,” the complaint says.

The Laurel County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Doug Bennett, who are named as defendants in the case, allegedly told S.S. and J.S. there are no exceptions to the rule.

The couple eventually contacted the Kentucky Department of Education, which confirmed that the school’s policy violates the McKinney-Vento Act, a law ensuring that homeless students “do not face barriers to accessing academic and extracurricular activities.”

Despite being told by the Department of Education that Q.W. should be immediately eligible to play for the team, the school board has done nothing, according to the complaint.

Denise Griebel, the school district’s liaison for homeless children, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Q.W.’s caregivers say Griebel failed to complete a “homeless dispute resolution form” that should have been filled out when the district decided not to allow the boy to play on the team.

S.S. and J.S. seek an injunction requiring the school to allow Q.W. to practice and play with the basketball team, as well as punitive damages for alleged violations of the McKinney-Vento Act and civil rights violations.

The complaint says an immediate decision is necessary because there are only nine games left in the season.

Q.W. and his caregivers are represented by Adam Back of Stoll, Keenon and Ogden in Lexington, Ky. Back declined to comment on the lawsuit, other than saying the plaintiffs are in contact with school officials.

The Board of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.