Lawsuit addresses OSSAA’s violation of student rights

OKLAHOMA CITY (Sept. 8, 2014)A federal lawsuit filed Monday by Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School challenges a rule adopted by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association that unfairly targets private high schools and forces student athletes to compete against teams from schools six times their size.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, challenges Rule 14, which was adopted by the OSSAA in April 2011. The lawsuit contends that Rule 14 violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as Oklahoma law.

The rule has, and will, force Bishop McGuinness student athletes to unsafely and unfairly compete against teams from much larger schools with an average student population that is more than double, and up to six times larger, than that of Bishop McGuinness. The average student population at Bishop McGuinness is approximately 700, whereas the average student population of the two largest 6A schools is 4,790 and 4,483 respectively.

“We expect the rules passed by the OSSAA to be applied fairly to all members and to not deliberately discriminate against one group. Rule 14 not only discriminates against private high schools, but seeks to purposefully put their student athletes at a disadvantage and in potentially unsafe playing conditions in certain sports,” Principal David Morton said. “We expressed these concerns with the OSSAA when they added the rule, but the association’s board of directors unfortunately chose to move forward.”

When schools join the OSSAA, they are each placed in a classification system based on the school’s average daily membership. The system is designed to provide fair competition and a safe environment for all schools by ensuring match-ups in playoff competition between schools of similar sizes. By amending Rule 14, the association created new guidelines that have the effect of targeting private schools and forcing many student athletes into the same unsafe and unfair competitive environment the classification system sought to avoid.

Under the original classification system, Bishop McGuinness qualifies to compete in Class 5A. The amendment of Rule 14 forces several of Bishop McGuinness’ teams to compete in the state’s largest class, 6A. Most troubling is that Rule 14 requires both boys’ and girls’ teams to move up a class in the sports of basketball, soccer, cross-country and track based upon the success of either team.

This year, Bishop McGuinness’ girls’ basketball team is required to move to Class 6A solely due to the success of the boys’ basketball team.

“We believe that forcing our girls’ basketball athletes to compete at the Class 6A level based solely on the success of the boys’ basketball team is inherently discriminatory toward female athletes,” Bishop McGuinness Athletic Director Gary Savely said.

“Rule 14 contains no valid rationale for the movement of only private high school teams to a higher classification other than to create a disadvantage for the students attending private high schools,” Principal Morton said. “Our goal with this lawsuit is to prevent the OSSAA from enforcing this arbitrary rule, and to ensure all schools and student athletes are provided a fair and safe environment in which to compete.”

For a copy of the complaint, click here