Sullivan & Worcester Files Suit Against Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association

Parent Asserts MIAA Violated Constitution, State Administrative Law In Preventing Her Child from Participating in Competitive Sports
Press Release
August 24, 2022

Boston, MA - Attorneys from Sullivan & Worcester LLP filed a motion for a preliminary injunction today in Norfolk County Superior Court against the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) on behalf of a Massachusetts high school parent who asserts that her child – who attends a statewide virtual high school – has been denied the opportunity to participate in interscholastic athletics. A new MIAA rule, effective July 1, 2022, prohibits students of the Commonwealth’s statewide virtual schools to participate in interscholastic athletics. To protect the privacy of the clients, the case has been filed under the pseudonyms Sarah and Jimmy Jones.

Nicholas M. O’Donnell, Patrick P. Dinardo, Ryan M. Rosenblatt and Anna Lea Setz of Sullivan & Worcester in Boston, with co-counsel Frank J. Bailey of PioneerLegal, LLC, represent the sole parent of 17-year-old male high school student who plays high school lacrosse. The student attends the TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA), which offers an alternative to either home schooling or attendance at a traditional brick-and-mortar school for students who need to attend a virtual public school. Until this year, students at these statewide schools could obtain a waiver and play on their local city or town’s athletic teams, as do home school students or students at district virtual schools.

"Without any transparency and with no apparent reason, MIAA issued an arbitrary rule for which it provided no justification that forbids students at statewide public virtual schools like this young man from participating in interscholastic athletic competition," said O’Donnell. "As students like our client navigate the start of our third school year in the COVID-19 pandemic, the MIAA’s action singles out students across the Commonwealth who are attending the school that is best for their health and education. How much more can we ask our students to bear?"

The motion asserts that MIAA’s arbitrary ruling violates the Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Massachusetts Constitution, and Massachusetts Administrative Procedures Act.

The Plaintiff requested an injunction to prevent MIAA from enforcing its rule so that the student can play lacrosse for his local high school during the 2022-2023 academic year season.

The student plaintiff played and enjoyed lacrosse at his local high school team in 2021 as a TECCA student, having received an MIAA waiver. Without injunctive relief, he will have to watch this year from the sidelines or make a painful choice about where to enroll at school.

"For reasons unknown to anyone, MIAA decided to exclude all students attending statewide virtual schools from participating in its interscholastic athletics, without any exceptions or waivers," said O’Donnell. "The Association provided no notice that it was anticipating such an exclusion, provided no open access to the meeting at which its decision to do so was made, and did not publish its reasons for doing so, ignoring the fact that waivers had routinely been granted for years. All of those actions are contrary to state constitutional and administrative law."

Plaintiff Sarah Jones (a pseudonym) asserts on behalf of her son that MIAA has no legitimate basis for excluding an arbitrary subset of virtual school students from extracurricular sports since they attend Massachusetts public schools, live in the same home school district, have parents who pay taxes in that district and wish to play the same sports after school as students who attend district schools. She also asserts that she is likely to prevail on her claim for a declaratory judgement that MIAA violated Sections 2 and 3 of the state’s Administrative Procedures Act, which requires state agencies to give notice and provide interested persons an opportunity to present data, views or arguments – which MIAA did not do in establishing its new rule eliminating waivers for students attending virtual schools.

About Sullivan
Sullivan & Worcester (Sullivan) is a leading AmLaw 200 law firm with over 200 attorneys in Boston, London, New York, Tel Aviv and Washington, DC. Sullivan’s clients, including Fortune 500 companies and emerging businesses, rely on Sullivan’s strategic vision, comfort with complexity and intense focus on results. As a global law firm, Sullivan’s reach extends beyond the United States. Sullivan has represented clients around the world and has a deep bench for working on a variety of matters and issues affecting clients globally.

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