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Is the ability for students to participate in extracurricular activities a
right or a privilege? Many young people mistakenly believe that it is a right.However, in the eyes of the law, it is a conditional privilege. Much to the chagrin of hyperbolic teenagers. School districts reserve the right to make satisfactory academic performance a contingency for participation in interscholastic sports. However, there was one aspiring student-athlete inTexas bold enough to challenge this assertion. Resulting in the ruling of Spring Branch I.S.D V. Stamos. Needless to say, the court’s verdict did not
favor the underachieving student-athlete.

To state it bluntly the Texas Supreme Court ruled that “no pass, no play” rules are constitutional.The student sought damages under the assumption that such rules violated equal protection and due process clauses under the Fourteenth Amendment (P. 246-247).
The court found that allowing entry to after-school activities based upon academic performance did not “constitute” discrimination upon a “suspect class”. In other words, poor performance in school does not necessarily mean the student is a member of historically disadvantaged groups. Poor achievement based upon a documented learning disability is significantly different than a similar result due to laziness. The impetus for the low grades would be drastically different.

The litigating attorney attempted to suggest that such rules were inherently discriminatory towards students with learning disabilities. This claim became problematic due to the fact this was made on the”behalf of an individual not a party to the lawsuit at the time of the trial”. The court threw this out on the grounds that “.. parties are restricted in the appellate court to the theory on which the case was tried in the lower court…”. Thus making this peripheral
argument invalid in the context of the specific facts of the case. The final nail in the coffin for the equal protection argument, in this case, came from the court citing that participation in such activities is not a fundamental right. Inferring that the right to joining the cheer-leading squad pales in comparison to freedom of religion, speech, etc.

After the court applied the rational basis test to this case to assess the constitutionality of mandatory minimum grade point averages as a contingency for participation in school sports programs it is clear that no crucial rights have been compromised. The equal protection
argument fell flat on a flimsy “suspect class” argument. Poor academic performance without a documented learning disability does not mirror the magnitude of discrimination based on categories such as race or religious affiliation (P.247). This action on the part of the school district was perceived as a “.. legitimate state objective…’ in enticing students to maintain a minimum standard of academic performance (P.247).

The court justifying this decision on the foundation of the Sullivan
V.UIL
. The referenced case grappled with the issue of  “.. non-seniors ineligible for  varsity football and basketball competition for one year following their transfer to a new school…”. It should be noted that the Stamos case fails to meet the same criterion in Sullivan to prove infringement upon fundamental legal rights. The measures taken in Sullivan was too broad in application to adequately address its intended purposes, discouraging interstate recruitment of student-athletes. The context of Stamos fails to reflect “..  irrebuttable presumption created by the rule”. No pass, no play contingencies do not suffer from the same disconnect between the end goal and the parameters of the rule.

 

No pass, no play is indisputably kosher in the under American law. Since such rules do no present any severe conflicts with any Constitutional rights. From a social standpoint, it does present another problem. Again, this presents an instance of the government intervening in an area that should be the responsibility of the parents. Presenting similar concerns to mandated drug testing for students.In the grand scheme of this is a minor complaint. Much like mandating drug testing for participation in extracurricular activities, mandatory minimum academic performance requirements are contingencies for completely voluntary programs. Once again paralleling circumstances mimicking the voluntary arrangements in the conditions of private employment. The students may even be required to sign  a document acknowledging a code of conduct. Which typically for student-athletes would detail academic conditions of eligibility for competition. Considering the acknowledgment of these conditions is voluntary and in writing, they seem fair. This also serves as an early lesson for teens to read the fine print before  you sign on the dotted line.

3 thoughts on “Extracurricular Activities: Legal Right or A Privilege

  1. Good review of the rational basis test. Notice that the purpose of this test is for the courts to show deference to the decisions made by elected officials; in other words, if parents don’t like the policies of their schools, they need to complain to the school board, not to the courts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an excellent point. It certainly would be more economical to complain to the school board versus having to hire a lawyer.

      I suppose if you have a strong coalition of pissed off parents that might be enough to rattle the beehive. Perhaps the school board will fold.

      Liked by 1 person

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