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Decision No. 17,362

Appeal of JOHN and PATRICIA DONNELLAN, on behalf of their son LUKE, from action of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association regarding participation in interscholastic athletics.

Decision No. 17,362

(March 28, 2018)

Renee L. James, Esq., attorney for respondent

ELIA, Commissioner.--Petitioners challenge the procedure for seeking a waiver of Rule 30 (the “transfer rule”) of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (“NYSPHSAA” or “respondent”) which limits the circumstances under which students who have transferred to another school may participate in interscholastic athletics.  The appeal must be dismissed.

At the time of this appeal, petitioners’ son, Luke (“the student”), was in the eleventh grade and attended John S. Burke Catholic High School (“Burke”).  Prior to March 2, 2015, the student attended Monroe-Woodbury High School in the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District (“Monroe-Woodbury”).  On March 2, 2015, the student transferred to Burke but continued to reside in Monroe-Woodbury.  The record indicates that the student participated in junior varsity basketball and cross country running during the 2014-2015 seasons while attending Monroe-Woodbury High School.

Respondent is a voluntary association of public and non-public schools organized to provide a central organization through which students may compete in interscholastic athletics.  In addition to the provisions of Commissioner’s regulation §135.4, which govern interscholastic athletic competition, respondent’s member schools are governed by NYSPHSAA’s Bylaws and Eligibility Standards.  One of the bylaws, known as the “transfer rule,” provides that a student who transfers schools, without a corresponding change in residence of his/her parents, is ineligible to participate in any interscholastic contest in a particular sport for one year, if that student participated in that sport in the year immediately preceding the transfer (NYSPHSAA Bylaw and Eligibility Standard Rule 30).  The transfer rule includes provisions whereby member schools may apply to respondent and seek a waiver of the rule on behalf of a student based upon undue hardship, if certain conditions are met.  A hardship waiver may be granted if it can be shown that the reason for the student’s transfer was the result of financial hardship or was related to matters of health and safety.

As part of the waiver application, the school previously attended by the student must complete a section of the application and provide information, including the reason for the student’s withdrawal from school.  The record indicates that, on June 10, 2015, the superintendent, principal, and athletic director of Monroe-Woodbury completed the required section of the waiver request form seeking the student’s participation in cross country running and basketball.  The waiver request form indicated that the student’s reason for withdrawal from Monroe-Woodbury High School was for “[h]ealth and [s]afety.”  By letter dated October 7, 2015, Burke’s principal notified petitioners that the school would not be submitting a waiver request on the student’s behalf to NYSPHSAA’s Section IX Eligibility Committee, citing a lack of information from the student’s previous school regarding the specific circumstances which caused the student to transfer to Burke.  The record further indicates that NYSPHSAA’s Bylaws and Eligibility Standards only permit a member school to seek a waiver on behalf of a student.  As a result, no application for a waiver of the transfer rule was submitted on behalf of the student for participation in interscholastic athletics for the 2015-2016 school year.  Furthermore, because no application was submitted, neither NYSPHSAA nor NYSPSHA’s Section IX Eligibility Committee considered, granted or denied a transfer rule waiver request for petitioners’ son. This appeal ensued.  Petitioners’ request for interim relief permitting the student to participate in cross country running and basketball during his junior year of high school was denied on October 26, 2015.

Petitioners contend that NYSPHSAA’s process for seeking a waiver of the transfer rule denied the student due process.  Specifically, petitioners contend that because Monroe-Woodbury did not provide sufficient evidence of the student’s reason for transferring to Burke, Burke could not seek the waiver on behalf of the student.  Petitioners further contend that, because the rule only permits member schools to seek a waiver of the transfer rule on behalf of a student, when the sending school fails to fully explain the circumstances which led the student to transfer, students are left without recourse to challenge the failure and are, therefore, not afforded due process.

Petitioners requested a stay of the transfer rule to permit the student to participate in interscholastic cross country running and basketball during his junior year of high school.  As noted, petitioners’ request for such interim relief was denied.  Petitioners also seek an order requiring NYSPHSAA to amend its process by which a member school may seek a waiver from the transfer rule for a student to no longer require a letter from the school previously attended.

Respondent asserts that the appeal must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, failure to join a necessary party, failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and as moot with respect to the 2015-2016 basketball season (the last sport season for which the student would be ineligible as a result of his transfer).

A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).  Joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense (Appeal of Murray, 48 Ed Dept Rep 517, Decision No. 15,934; Appeal of Miller, 48 id. 465, Decision No. 15,917; Appeal of Williams, 48 id. 343, Decision No. 15,879).

As relief, petitioners seek a waiver of the athletic transfer rule to permit the student to participate on Burke’s interscholastic cross-country running and basketball teams during the 2015-2016 school year.  Such relief, if granted, would necessarily affect Burke, which did not seek the waiver, as it would require Burke to permit the student to participate on its athletic teams.[1]  Therefore, Burke is a necessary party and must be joined as a respondent.  To the extent that petitioners seek an order which requires Burke to permit the student to participate on its interscholastic athletics teams, the appeal must be dismissed for failure to join Burke as a necessary party.

The appeal also must be dismissed as moot.  The Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 48 Ed Dept Rep 532, Decision No. 15,940; Appeal of M.M., 48 id. 527, Decision No. 15,937; Appeal of Embro, 48 id. 204, Decision No. 15,836).  Petitioners’ request for relief was limited to the student’s participation in interscholastic athletics during the 2015-2016 school year.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied and the 2015-2016 school year has concluded, warranting the appeal’s dismissal as moot.

In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties’ remaining contentions.

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE

 

[1] I note that petitioners have not challenged Burke’s determination not to submit a waiver request or Monroe-Woodbury’s refusal to submit additional information regarding the student’s transfer.