Religious Schools Seek Fair Play on Sports

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Four religious high schools sued the California agency in charge of high school sports, for its “discriminatory scheme” that boots them from leagues with secular schools and forces them to travel “excessive distances” to a parochial league.
     The four schools filed three federal complaints, alleging constitutional violations, breach of contract and other charges.
     The plaintiffs are Lucy’s Priory school of Glendora; Oaks Christian School, of Westlake Village; and Saint Bonaventure High School, of Ventura, and Damien High School. They sued the California Interscholastic Federation of Sacramento and its commissioner and directors.
     The nonprofit CIF operates under the state Education Code, with oversight from the Legislature. It governs all interscholastic sports and high school state championships, for public and private schools.
     The plaintiff schools claim that they are being forced to leave athletic leagues in which they have competed for decades, while secular schools get to stay put. They claim this violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection, and the CIF’s own rules.
     “Defendants have embarked on a mission to segregate these religious high schools from their public school neighbors by removing them from the athletic leagues in which they have competed for decades in order to place them into the ‘parochial area’ with other religious schools up to 90 miles away,” the complaint states.
     For decades St. Lucy has competed in sports within a 16 mile radius of the school. But beginning in 2014, students will have to travel as much as 82 miles round trip for league games.
     Saint Bonaventure’s round trip will have be as much as 134 miles, and Damien’s average drive to league games will increase from a 30 mile round trip to an 80 mile journey, according to the complaint.
     The CIF “wholly ignored the welfare of the students” and these “severe geographic-based hardships,” the schools claim.
     “Students of the religious high schools will face the prospect of collectively missing thousands of hours of classroom instruction time to accommodate the longer travel times and return home significantly later from away games, which will leave them with little time to study, rest and spend with their families,” the lawsuit states.
     The schools say they fear that parents and students will decide to give up sports altogether, or enroll in public schools.
     The schools pay membership fees to the CIF – Southern Section. Neither that chapter nor its commissioner Robert Wigod explained the decision to move the schools out of their leagues, the schools say.
     Instead of an independent panel, the committee of executives who made the decision to uproot the schools considered and rejected the schools’ appeal, the complaint says.
     “The executive committee is not comprised of neutral decision makers but instead consists largely of public school administrators whose schools were not forced to move and who have a vested interest in the area placement of the religious high schools into the parochial area,” the complaint states.
     The schools say that in 1998 the CIF tried, and failed, to move Damien and St. Lucy’s into the parochial area.
     A five-member arbitration panel overturned the decision. But the CIF no longer uses that neutral panel, according to the complaint.
     The CIF “decided to ‘change the game’ to prevent fair and impartial hearings so it would not lose again,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs estimate that 40 religious schools are affected by the changes.
     “By targeting religious private schools, but not similarly-situated public schools, CIF-SS [California Interscholastic Federation – Southern Section] has forsaken its obligation to act in the best interests of all students. CIF-SS’s area placement decision is offensive to the very principles of fair play and equity that CIF-SS claims to promote through high schools athletics,” the complaint states.
     The schools seek an injunction reversing the CIF decision and ordering it to follow its own rules and procedures.
     St. Lucy’s is represented by Robert Prata with Prata & Daley; Saint Bonaventure by Michele Friend with Kneafsey & Friend; and Oaks Christian by Jack DiCanio.
     California Interscholastic Federation – Southern Section was closed Friday. The California Interscholastic Federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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