Bishop England is one of a dozen high schools in the Palmetto State that filed a lawsuit on Monday against the South Carolina High School League, alleging the governing body of high school sports in the state enacted new rules that unfairly target and discriminate against the state’s private and charter high schools.
The lawsuit is a result of the High School League’s approval of bylaws and constitutional amendments in March that address school-to-school transfers and athletic eligibility rules. Those changes, in a press release from the Diocese of Charleston, “penalize their student-athletes and restrict parents from fully exercising their legally protected right to school choice.”
The lawsuit was filed in Greenville against the High School League, a body that oversees athletics of 206 schools around the state.
Twelve schools are named as plaintiffs in the suit, including Bishop England High School and Oceanside Collegiate.
Bishop England is one of four private schools that compete in the High School League that is part of the lawsuit. The other schools are St. Joseph’s, Christ Church and Southside Christian.
Charter schools include Oceanside Charter, Greer Middle College, Brashier Middle College, Greenville Technical Charter, Fox Creek, Palmetto Scholars and Legion Collegiate.
“We are participating in this lawsuit because of the league’s blatant discrimination against our students,” Bishop England Principal Patrick Finneran said in a press release. “These amendments will hurt student-athletes first and foremost. The South Carolina High School League oversees many games in South Carolina, but it should not be permitted to play games with the lives of South Carolina students and families.”
Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) was one of a handful of state lawmakers who supported the lawsuit.
Grooms, in a statement, said the High School League placed itself above the law. “This is discrimination on so many fronts — against these students and their parents who have the right to choose an educational opportunity they feel is best for their children,” he said in a separate press release.
The High School League, in March, passed amendments the plaintiff schools claim directly targeted them. The High School League treats public and charter schools differently than “traditional” public schools, the lawsuit claims.
In one amendment that goes into effect for the 2020-21 academic year, nearly all students who transfer from a “traditional” public school to a charter or private school will have to sit out a year before they gain eligibility to play any sport sanctioned by the league.
The High School League also ruled students were no longer allowed to transfer to any high school in the state by their freshman year and be immediately eligible to play sports.
In the past, students were immediately eligible even if they lived outside that school’s attendance zone. Now, students who transfer must sit out a year.
The schools that are part of the lawsuit make up a small portion of the High School League’s body. But the schools have become major players in the race to be the state’s best athletic programs.
Bishop England has competed at the Class AA or AAA level in the last 20 years and has won the Carlyle Cup every year since its inception around the turn of the century. The award is given by the state’s athletic directors to the top athletic programs in each of the state’s five classifications.
While Bishop England rules Class AAA, Christ Church, an Episcopal school in the Upstate, is arguably the best athletic program in Class AA. One of the schools challenging Christ Church for Class AA supremacy is St. Joseph’s in Greenville.
Charter schools also have succeeded in sports. Oceanside Collegiate, based in Mount Pleasant, is considered to be the up-and-coming athletic program in the state, while Grey’s Collegiate, a Midlands school, has become a force in boys’ basketball with three consecutive state championships.
The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction ordering the High School League to cease enforcement of its new amendments. The plaintiffs want the court to deem these amendments as unlawful and permanently stop the league from enforcing them.