ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - A group of private and charter high schools wants a state court to throw out new rules governing the transfer of student athletes because they limit school choice.
The amendments to the so-called transfer rule - and the rule itself - are designed to "discourage students and parents from attending the schools that they feel are the best fit," the schools contend in a lawsuit in Albany County Supreme Court.
Named as defendant is the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the governing body for interscholastic sports in the state. Nearly 800 public, parochial and private school are members of the association.
The nine plaintiffs are member schools. Five are from the Albany area, three are from the Rochester region, and one is in Syracuse. They including Catholic, Christian, charter and independent, college-preparatory schools; four are single-sex schools.
The schools object to changes made last fall by the athletic association that will take effect in the 2015-16 academic year. According to the lawsuit, "thousands of student athletes in grades 7 through 12" will be affected.
The association's handbook already outlines how student athletes who change schools are treated in a section titled "Transfer."
According to the rule, if students move with their family into a district, they are eligible to play sports as soon as they start attending classes in the new school. However, if they shift schools without changing where they live, they have to sit out a year in the sport they played at their old school.
At a meeting in October, the association added three amendments to the transfer rule that the schools contend are arbitrary and violate state education law.
One eliminated what was known as an educational waiver that allowed students to change schools without sitting out a year if the school they wanted to transfer to offered three academic courses that their home school did not. The courses typically were Latin, theology or certain Advanced Placement classes, according to the lawsuit.
"Educational waivers allow NYSPHSAA student athletes to continue athletic participation while simultaneously meeting their educational needs and desires through enrollment at educational institutions that meet their specific needs such as classroom size, gender-specific enrollment, religious faith and/or specific academic curriculum," the schools contend.
They say the athletic association deemed it necessary to eliminate the waivers to curb attempts at recruiting, or what was described as "athletic advantage."
But the schools say the association offered "not a single example of the transfer rule being abused by a student gaining an 'athletic advantage.'" Nor had the association heard any complaints in the last three years about the waivers being used for athletic advantage, according to the lawsuit.
The association reported it handles a couple hundred requests annually for educational waiver transfers. But the schools say "that fact alone does not provide any evidence of abuse of the rule and is not a rational basis for enacting a blanket prohibition of educational waivers."
Waiver protocol required that officials at both sending and receiving schools attest that the transfer was being done "without inducement, recruitment or having sought an athletic advantage," the complaint says.
The schools also point out that the association's handbook specifically prohibits recruiting by member-school coaches and athletic directors, or offering inducements (money, jobs, clothing, reduced tuition) to attend a school.
The second amendment cited in the schools' complaint requires that parents who move into a new district with a transferring student "demonstrate an 'intent to remain indefinitely.'"
The schools say the association adopted the change to clarify the meaning of "residency," but contend the rationale "is so out of touch and arbitrary that it cannot be said to have any rational basis."
The lawsuit calls the language "unconstitutionally vague, both on its face and as applied to respondent's members."
The schools say the third amendment passed by the association violates education law because it requires that parents disclose their marital status in applying for an athlete's admission to a district.
According to the lawsuit, the amendment changed provisions governing the transfer of students whose parents are divorced or legally separated to require disclosure of details of child custody and support arrangements.
But education law says that no application for admission to a school "shall contain questions requiring the involuntary disclosure of the marital status of the parents of those applying for admission," according to the lawsuit.
The schools say the association wanted to tighten the rule to prevent parents from using their separation to facilitate a student athlete's transfer. But the association "has not produced a single example or statistic of parents abusing the transfer rule by 'claiming' they are separated," the schools contend.
The schools also attacked the transfer rule itself, calling it "simply an overbroad, ill-disguised attempt to limit school choice."
They want the transfer rule eliminated, along with the three amendments approved last fall.
The plaintiff schools are The Albany Academies in Albany, La Salle Institute in Troy; Emma Willard School in Troy; The Doane Stuart School in Rensselaer; the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany; Lima Christian School in Lima, south of Rochester; McQuiad Jesuit in Rochester; Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women in Rochester; and Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School in Syracuse.
Robert Zayas, executive director of the association, which is based in suburban Albany, said Wednesday that because of the pending litigation, "we are certainly limited on any comment we are able to provide at this time."
In an email, he outlined the structure of the association, noting that the organization's members set its rules and regulations. "We are confident that the rules have been created and developed by the membership in a fair manner," he added.
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