New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) is the governing body for high school sports in New Jersey. Founded in 1918, it describes itself as "a voluntary, non-profit organization made up of 425 accredited public, private and parochial high schools in the state."
The NJSIAA discriminates against homeschoolers by banning them from playing for member schools. The NJSIAA imposes this restriction even though Pennsylvania and many states require public schools to allow homeschoolers to compete.
However, the NJSIAA may be losing its grip on state sports, as talented athletes join sports programs that refuse to belong to the NJSIAA and submit to its regulations.
NJSIAA Ban on Homeschoolers
Under a clarification for its rules for Eligibility, it prohibits home-schooled athletes as follows:
- Section 1. A student, to be eligible for participation in the interscholastic athletic program of a member school, must be enrolled in that school and must meet all the eligibility requirements of the Constitution, Bylaws, and Rules and Regulations, of the NJSIAA.
- CL Students being home-schooled (by parents or other parties) are not eligible because they are not enrolled. Properly enrolled students on Home Instruction provided by the Board of Education are eligible if the student satisfies CL 4 of Section 4.E. (emphasis added)
Note that this "clarification" imposes a limitation on a member school as to who may participate on its own team, even if the opposing team consents to the participation. It is not clear from the NJSIAA who inserted this clarification, or when.
But the NJSIAA Rules and Regulations on Eligibility allow almost any type of "not enrolled" student, other than a home-schooled student, to compete in their local high school sports:
- G. Enrollment ... (2) Initial Enrollment - At the beginning of his/her secondary school career a student is free to choose any secondary school he/she may legally attend, (9th grade in a 4- or 6-year high school or 10th grade in a 3-year high school).
- CL 1 A high school student is a regularly enrolled student as defined by the Department of Education.
- CL 2 Voc-Tech/Public Academy Shared Time - When a student is carried on the Official Register and attends some classes at a school, but also attends additional classes at another school, he/she is eligible for interscholastic athletics at the school where he/she is carried on the Official Register. If a student is carried on both Official Registers, the student may choose the school at which he/she wishes to participate in all sports on a full school-year basis.
- CL 3 Voc-Tech/Public Academy Full Time - If a Vocational/Technical High School Public Academy does not offer the particular sport in which one of its full-time students desires to participate, that student may participate in that sport at his/her sending school upon agreement of both Principals, regardless of the number of sports programs offered at the Vocational/ Technical High School Public Academy.
- CL 4 Voc-Tech/Public Academy - When a student elects to transfer to or from a Voc-ational/Technical High School to or from the district school where the student resides the student is eligible immediately provided such assignment is by the Board of Education of the district where the student resides and the student satisfies all other eligibility regulations.
- CL 5 Charter School -If a secondary Charter School does not offer the particular sport in which one of its full-time students wishes to participate, that student may participate in that sport at his/her school of residence upon agreement of both principals, regardless of the number of sports programs offered at the Charter School. [Note: then why can't a home-schooled student do likewise?]
- CL 6 Choice School - A choice student who attends a Choice School, pursuant to regulations adopted by the New Jersey Department of Education, shall be immediately eligible to participate in sports at the Choice School provided a Transfer Waiver Form is executed by both the Choice School and the Residential School, in the manner set forth in Article V, Section 4.K(2) of the NJSIAA Bylaws.
- ...H. Post-Graduates - No post-graduate student shall be eligible for school competition. When a student graduates from a school (days or weeks) before the official end of the semester that student may continue to represent his/ her school until the official end of that semester - either January 31 or June 30. A student becomes ineligible for high school athletics when the class in which he/she originally enrolled is graduated.
- CL 1 A League/Conference or County may grant a waiver (as provided for in the Rules & Regulations, Rule 2, Specific Sport Regulations, Note 3) to permit teams or individuals from the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools to participate if such Student-Athletes are in the first year of post-high school matriculation.
- I. Pre-High School Students - Students in any 9th grade are eligible for teams in the Senior High School in that district at the discretion of the administrators and the Board of Education in that district. Students in any 6th, 7th, or 8th grades of any school (Jr. High or Sr. High) who play on 9th grade or so-called freshman or sophomore, junior varsity and varsity teams will be negligible at the conclusion of eight consecutive semesters of such participation. Junior High School 9th grade teams may play against 9th grade teams from 4- year or 6-year high schools.
In a brilliant law review article entitled Legal Precedents and Strategies Shaping Home Schooled Students' Participation in Public School Sports, Kathryn Gardner and Allison McFarland outline several ways for home schoolers to overcome barriers to compete on high school sports teams:
1. Pass legislation to allow home schoolers to compete, or to give local school boards the power to allow them to compete.
2. File a lawsuit based on the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In Christian Heritage Acad. v. Okla. Secondary Sch. Activities Ass'n, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 8186 (10th Cir. Apr. 9, 2007), the Tenth Circuit upheld a challenge under the Equal Protection Clause against the Oklahoma high school sports association because it allowed public schools to join automatically but required a majority vote in order to admit private schools. The Tenth Circuit held, without dissent, that the high school sports association was a state actor subject to the Fourteenth Amendment. In Indiana High School Athletic Ass'n, Inc. v. Garcia (Ind.App. November 15, 2007), the Court of Appeals held that a high school athletic association is governmental agency that engages in "state action" with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief about eligibility of an athlete to compete. The Court noted that the association's existence relied entirely on the cooperation and support of the public school system, and that the association was funded by tax dollars.
3. File a lawsuit based on state constitutions.
There is a fourth and fifth approach overlooked by the law review article:
4. Sue the school association that is prohibiting participation by home school athletes under antitrust law. Specifically, sue for an unlawful refusal to deal with home school athletes. This approach is explored more fully at School sports and antitrust.
5. As in challenges to Proposition 16, there may be an argument based on racial discrimination.
And then there is this approach:
6. Appeal to the state Department of Education and hope for a sympathetic administrator. But other than changing enrollment requirements for everyone, it is unclear if the state Department of Education can do much about the rules of an organization claiming to be private.
- NEW JERSEY STATE INTERSCHOLASTIC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION HANDBOOK 2005-2006 CONSTITUTION, BYLAWS AND RULES AND REGULATIONS ELIGIBILITY