A parent of a 17-year-old high school lacrosse player who attends a statewide virtual school brought a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Wednesday, claiming that a recent rule interpretation by the governing body prohibits her son from participating in interscholastic athletics.
The suit asks Norfolk Superior Court to allow a student at TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School — a statewide public virtual school with 3,000-plus students founded a decade ago — to play lacrosse at Duxbury High next spring.
Following the same protocols used by home-schooled students and students who attend a district’s own virtual school started during the pandemic, “Jimmy” utilized the waiver option from the MIAA website to play junior varsity lacrosse this past spring at Duxbury.
(Pseudonyms are used for both the mother and the rising senior who is not being allowed to play.)
Now, waivers for students from the two statewide public virtual schools will not be issued.
“I think it’s just extremely unfair and inappropriate to exclude just virtual school students from being able to participate in what I would consider to be important opportunities for kids,” said Patrick Lattuca, superintendent of TECCA. “I think the more opportunities you have to offer students for their development, the better.”
Nick O’Donnell of Sullivan & Worcester is lead counsel in the case, which is joined by PioneerLegal, a nonprofit public interest law firm.
“It’s just incredibly disruptive to [Jimmy] as a student and as a young man, which I think is sort of the beginning and end of the discussion,” said O’Donnell. “It’s a disruption to him and it’s not what the mother wants to do for her son.
“Kids that want to participate and want to seek a waiver, they ought to have that opportunity, and the MIAA should not enforce the rule in the way they have promised to enforce it.”
MIAA executive director Bob Baldwin said the MIAA acted to address concerns from superintendents who said they were being put in uncomfortable situations signing waivers to allow non-district virtual student-athletes to play sports within their district.
“They disenrolled; why would they be allowed [to play] in the first place, because they no longer exist in that district,” said Baldwin, who mentioned that districts lose per-student state aid funds when a student leaves a district. “When we read the actual rule itself, we were trying to create more clarity and consistency across the board.”
Baldwin said home-schooled students seeking to play sports fall under a different policy. If such a student wants to play sports within their district, their local school board needs to sign off.
When Baldwin said the board’s decision was a clarification of the existing rule and not a rule change, Lattuca said, “Well, I don’t understand how it can be when we’re listed on the form on your website.’”
Lattuca said reasons for students to attend virtual schools have included medical situations; bullying; social, emotional, and anxiety issues; parenthood or work obligations; and some are in full-time athletic or Olympic development programs. He said he can recall only one instance in around 200 cases where a district superintendent did not sign a waiver request.
“Jimmy” is described in the lawsuit as “a prolific youth hockey player, who plays for a junior league team on Cape Cod that recruits players from around North America. Jimmy’s achievements and talent have him in line to be recruited at the highest level of collegiate hockey, and very likely professional hockey as well.” The suit also says his hockey obligations prevent him from attending a traditional high school.
Baldwin believes the new interpretation of the rule will affect “maybe in the 20s” of students.
Baldwin said he suggested to Lattuca that TECCA become a MIAA member to make this a non-issue.
“Nobody’s telling them they can’t enroll as a member in the MIAA,” said Baldwin. “But also, that student who has left that home district can’t displace a student who is in that home district.”
Said Lattuca, who signed an affidavit with the court filing: “I couldn’t understand the reasoning and the rationale as to the answers I was getting to the questions I was asking.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.