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Kentucky appeals court upholds recruiting limits

The court, in its Dec. 21 decision, upheld an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court for Western Kentucky that maintained the rules intended to limit athletic recruiting by private schools.

The parents of four private-school students who sued in 2009 over the rules want the case appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, said their lawyer, Teddy Gordon.

The rules prohibit students who want to compete in athletics from getting more than 25% of their tuition costs covered by merit-based scholarships.

They also prohibit students from receiving funding from sources outside the school’s “custody and control.” There is no cap on need-based financial aid.

The parents of three Presentation Academy (Louisville) students and one Walden School (Matthews, Ky.) student argued in their lawsuits that the rules force students to choose between participating in athletics and getting tuition help they otherwise would be entitled to receive. The schools themselves did not sue.

The appeals court ruled the claims lacked merit.

“The fundamental right of parents to control the education of their children does not extend to a right to demand that their children be allowed to participate without restrictions in extracurricular sports,” the court said.

The parents of the Presentation students also argued that Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules discriminated against Catholic students. The rules spell out the distinction between Catholic schools governed by their diocese and other religious and secular schools governed by boards.

But other than that distinction, the court ruled, “the restrictions apply in the same manner to all non-public schools, regardless of whether a school is religiously affiliated.”

The 6th Circuit court said the tuition cap “may not be a perfect rule,” but it doesn’t need to be to pass a legal test.

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said he was pleased with the ruling — and noted the limits were crafted by private schools themselves.

“They just don’t have the funding to be throwing money around on athletic scholarships,” he said.

But he said the rules, adopted before the 2007-08 school year, helped “to help address perception issues” that private schools were stacking teams with athletic recruits.

Gordon, however, called the decision disappointing.

“The Court failed to recognize the religious freedom of these Roman Catholic and Christian students who want to participate in Kentucky high school sports without losing their badly needed tuition that was provided to them based on their academic abilities,” he said. “We are hopeful the KHSAA will review the ruling and stop penalizing academic achievement and their continual acrimony against all parochial schools.”

The case was originally brought in separate Jefferson Circuit Court lawsuits in 2009. The U.S. courts got involved because some of the challenges to the rules were based on federal laws.

If the Supreme Court rejects or declines to hear the appeal, the litigation would return to Jefferson Circuit to determine if the rules violate any state laws.

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