Teens Vault Hurdle in Disability Bias Case

      CHICAGO (CN) – The Illinois High School Association cannot dismiss claims that it discriminates against disabled athletes, a federal judge ruled.
     Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the association in May, on behalf of M.K., a disabled student.
     M.K., a 16-year-old at Fenwick High School, is paralyzed from the waist down, but she swims for her high school team and is ranked as one of the top adaptive swimmers in Illinois.
     Nevertheless, as a disabled student, M.K. is not allowed to earn points for her team at swim meets, nor can she qualify for state championships.
     Earlier this year, Illinois attempted to discuss the issue with the association, which includes 98 percent of state public and private high schools, but the group refused to change its policy, citing concerns about its exposure to liability. Madigan filed her suit after these talks failed.
     U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall refused to dismiss the case last week.
     “The plaintiffs have alleged facts that plausibly suggest that IHSA is a public entity: specifically, they have alleged that about 98 percent of Illinois schools are members of IHSA, that all Illinois public high schools are supported by public taxation and are recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education, and that IHSA oversees those schools’ interscholastic high school sports programs in a very detailed manner,” Gottschall wrote. “These facts suggest that IHSA is an ‘instrumentality of a state or states or local government.'”
     Gottschall also noted that the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief for the state, arguing that the IHSA operates a place of public accommodation by organizing meets and championships in public stadiums, gymnasiums, courts and tracks.
     “Precisely what level of control must be exercised to say that IHSA ‘operates’ the various public accommodations in which IHSA-sanctioned meets and championships take place is not clear at this time,” he wrote. “But the plaintiffs have alleged that IHSA regulates all of the interscholastic activities in which its member schools engage, establishes the eligibility criteria for student athletes, determines which member schools can compete in competitions, sets the times and dates during which interscholastic activities can be held, establishes scoring rules and qualifying standards for student athletes, and regulates the qualifications of coaches and officials. These facts suffice to plausibly allege that IHSA operates a place of public accommodation.”

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