Judge Strikes Down Temporary Order Granting High-School Senior Fifth Year of IHSA Eligibility Based on His ADHD

February 19, 2013

By Julie E. Lewis

On January 25, 2013, a judge struck down the temporary order that granted a high-school senior a fifth year of eligibility. Judge Leinenweber ruled that Matthew Lyon of Gordon Tech College Prep was ineligible to continue wrestling because he had already done so for four years.  On January 11, 2013, Judge Darrah had granted a temporary order allowing Lyon to continue wrestling, holding that there are instances where student athletes with disabilities must be reasonably accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by waiving eligibility Illinois High School Association (“IHSA”) rules.  Lyon had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) in grade school and educated pursuant to an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) since that time.  He struggled academically and had left his previous high school in California at the mid-year point and then re-enrolled in the same grade upon moving to Illinois.

In his decision, Judge Leinenweber noted that if Lyon had dropped out of school for an entire year, as opposed to leaving his previous high school in California at the mid-year point, Lyon may have been able to wrestle today. That ruling created the possibility that an athlete with a season-ending injury could drop out of high school for a year in order to preserve eligibility. To prevent that from happening, IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said the IHSA’s rules will be amended in July so that a student’s four years of eligibility will run like a ticking clock; eligibility will expire four years after a student’s freshman year begins, regardless of how many days he or she spends in a classroom or on a team.

Lyon did have the opportunity to compete one last time in the 14 days between the two rulings. If you have questions in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act or students with disabilities, please contact a Scariano, Himes & Petrarca attorney.

High-School Senior Granted Fifth Year of IHSA Eligibility Based on His ADHD

January 21, 2013

By Julie E. Lewis

 A recent federal court decision, Lyon v. Illinois High Sch. Ass’n (N.D.Ill. 2013), holds that there are instances where student athletes with disabilities must be reasonably accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by waiving eligibility rules.  In November 2012, a fifth-year high-school senior requested a waiver from the Illinois High School Association (“IHSA”) to permit him to wrestle after his eight semesters of eligibility had expired.  The student had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) in grade school and educated pursuant to an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) since that time.  He struggled academically and had repeated his junior year in 2011-2012.

 The student was ineligible under IHSA Rules providing that a student is only eligible for competition for eight semesters/four years.  The student’s waiver request was denied, and after he exhausted his appeals before the IHSA, he sued in federal court alleging that the IHSA’s failure to accommodate him constituted a violation of the ADA.

 The student sought and received a preliminary injunction from the federal District Court.   Noting the IHSA’s stated purpose to facilitate students’ safe and equal competition in interscholastic activities “which may provide enrichment to the educational experience,” the District Court ruled that waiving the eight-semester/four-year limitation for the wrestler would not have fundamentally changed IHSA rules.  Addressing concerns about a potential competitive advantage for the student, the Court reasoned that because wrestlers are restricted to facing opponents in their weight class, a waiver would not have undermined the IHSA goal of promoting fair competition.  The Court ordered the IHSA to grant the student eligibility to participate in varsity wrestling for the remaining semester of the 2012-2013 season.

 The Court’s decision does not provide a bright-line rule concerning the eligibility of students with disabilities who participate in athletics and do not graduate within the customary eight semesters/four years. The decision, does however, provide some guidance in this area. If you have questions in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act or students with disabilities, please contact a Scariano, Himes & Petrarca attorney.

NEW IHSA RESIDENCY BY LAW AFFECTS ELIGIBILITY OF STUDENTS IN MULTIPLE HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICTS

August 17, 2010

By James Petrungaro

School districts with multiple high schools have a new IHSA bylaw to grapple with, aimed at prohibiting intra-district student transfers. Before July 1, 2010, IHSA rules permitted a student to compete for any school located within the school district boundaries in which the student resides. This allowed a student to attend High School A within the District one year and then transfer to High School B the following year, provided High School B was located within the same district.

After receiving complaints that school districts were permitting such intra-district transfers in an apparent attempt to create a sports powerhouse at one particular high school, the IHSA responded with a new residency bylaw, providing, (in pertinent part): 3.031 Public School Students: Students attending public member schools shall be eligible at the public high school in which they enroll, provided: 3.031.1 they reside full time … within the boundaries of the attendance area of the high school they attend is located.

Accordingly, under the rule change, a student violates Bylaw 3.031.1 if he attends High School a one year and then transfers to High School B the next year without actually relocating within the attendance zone of High School B, regardless of the school district’s attendance zone policy. The new bylaw appears to apply equally to entering freshmen who live in High School A’s attendance zone but are permitted to enroll in High School B. Violation of Bylaw 3.031.1 subjects the student to IHSA suspension of up to one year. It is unclear whether a student who violates Bylaw 3.031.1 and serves a one-year suspension is eligible to compete following the suspension if the student does not relocate within the new school’s attendance zone.

The bylaw provides limited exceptions for extraordinary circumstances, court ordered education/assignment plans, sibling preference policies, etc. We have been informed that the IHSA is accepting and encouraging an open dialogue in advance of the competition season from school districts that will be affected by the new bylaw.

Although the fall competition season for some sports is already under way, we are committed to assisting you in avoiding IHSA penalties by obtaining guidance from IHSA specific to your District. Of particular concern is the impact of this new rule on school districts having “buffer zone” enrollment policies. Please contact James Petrungaro at 312-565-3100 ext. 257 or jpetrungaro@edlawyer.com should you desire assistance with the application of this new bylaw.