MIAA to Allow Virtual School Students to Participate in Home School District Athletics

Under pressure from lawsuits, agency reinstates long-held policy

BOSTON – Pioneer Public Interest Law Center (PPILC) and the law firm of Sullivan & Worcester LLP are pleased to announce that after an 18-month legal battle, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has reversed its position and will once again allow children who attend Commonwealth Virtual Schools to play interscholastic sports in the school districts where they live.

“While I am deeply gratified that the MIAA leadership finally decided to abide by state and federal constitutional requirements, I am deeply disappointed that children have missed as much as two years of participation on their school sports teams,” said PPILC President Frank J. Bailey.

Nicholas M. O’Donnell, a partner at Sullivan & Worcester LLP who also represented the students, added, “I am filled with admiration for our clients, who stayed the course long after the rule change robbed them of their own seasons, to make a positive change for other students.”

In 2022, MIAA announced that students from Massachusetts’ two virtual schools — TECCA Connections Academy (TECCA) in Walpole and Greater Commonwealth Virtual School (GVCS) in Greenfield — were no longer eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics in their home districts, even though such participation had been successfully in place for seven years prior.

Under the earlier policy, virtual school students could participate in athletics at their local public high school if the heads of both the virtual and traditional schools agreed to it. There had never been an issue with the mutual agreement system, nor was there any outreach from MIAA about any possible change. Many school districts allow virtual school students to participate in all other extracurricular activities, such as theater and music programs.

The families of students at TECCA and GVCS challenged the MIAA’s decision.

In late 2022, PPILC, a Massachusetts public interest law firm, teamed with Sullivan & Worcester to file suit against the MIAA on behalf of two students who were suddenly prohibited from competing as part of their local district teams.

One plaintiff, who had attended public schools in his hometown for five years, joined the lawsuit during his sophomore year in high school. While attending his local public high school, he was relentlessly mistreated and bullied by his classmates — experiences that destroyed his self-confidence and were greatly exacerbated by an anxiety disorder.

By last year, his third at TECCA, he had gained the self-confidence to try out for and make junior varsity soccer team at his local public high school, where he had a great experience. But just before the first game of the season in September 2022, he was informed that he was no longer eligible to play. Having now missed two seasons, his hopes of playing high school soccer are over.

The other named plaintiff is an outstanding hockey player who is in line to be recruited at the highest level of collegiate hockey. He was adopted from another country at 18 months old and attended local public schools through ninth grade, but struggled with learning issues likely attributable to neglect before he was adopted.

After enrolling at TECCA nearly two years ago, he received the academic support he needed, and the online format can accommodate his busy club hockey travel schedule. The student has also competed as part of his local high school’s lacrosse team, but the new MIAA rule prevented him from continuing at TECCA.

The families of both students own homes and pay real estate taxes that support their local public schools. The plaintiffs are representative of the diverse student bodies at public virtual schools that also include students with medical issues, those seeking the flexibility to proceed at a slower — or, not infrequently, a faster academic pace — and students who are very involved with the arts. The schools provide districts and parents alike with a far less expensive option to private schools that address these needs.

After over a year of litigation, MIAA announced in October 2023 that it had reversed the decision to ban virtual school students from participating in local school sports. The decision was ratified in November.

“Pioneer Public Interest Law Center is dedicated to preserving families’ right to choose the educational environment that best suits their child’s needs,” Bailey said. “We will continue to protect those rights in and out of court.”

Public Interest Law Firm Sues to Allow Virtual School Students to Participate in High School Sports

MIAA rule change prohibits public virtual school students from playing for teams in their home districts

BOSTON – PioneerLegal, a non-profit public interest law firm, has filed suit against the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) in Norfolk County Superior Court for prohibiting students at a public virtual school from playing on high school sports teams in the students’ home district.

The plaintiff is a Massachusetts high school parent whose child, a student at a statewide virtual high school, has been denied participation in interscholastic athletics. To protect the privacy of the clients, the case was filed under pseudonyms (“Sally and Jimmy Jones”).

TEC Connections Academy Commonwealth Virtual School (TECCA) is an online public school that enrolls 3,000 students from across Massachusetts, 1,650 of whom are in high school. TECCA students had long played on their home district sports teams until the MIAA “reinterpreted” its eligibility rules as of July 1 of this year. The new rule bans students at statewide public virtual schools from playing on sports teams in their home district and even prohibits them from applying for a waiver from the rule.

“Other non-traditional schools – including homeschoolers and even district-based virtual schools – can apply for a waiver and be granted permission to participate,” said PioneerLegal President Frank Bailey. “But TECCA students cannot.”

The student plaintiff played lacrosse for his local high school team in 2021 as a TECCA student, having received an MIAA waiver. Without injunctive relief, he will have to watch this year from the sidelines, or make a painful choice about where to enroll at school.

Virtual schools attract a diverse student body. Some students have found learning in a traditional classroom to be very challenging because of bullying or emotional challenges. Others are highly advanced academically and want the ability to move more quickly. Still others seek the flexibility to train for sports activities or develop a special skill or talent such as acting.

Participating in athletics can be the only way for virtual school students to interact with their peers. For many years they have been eligible to play on teams in their home districts, where their parents often pay taxes.

The MIAA is a private association that creates rules for high school sports in Massachusetts. The fact that most public-school districts are members; its dues are mostly paid with tax dollars; and its board is made up of public employees such as school board members, teachers, superintendents and athletic directors caused the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to rule that it is a “state actor.” That means the MIAA is, for all intents and purposes, acting as the government.

The organization has done little to clarify the reason for its policy change, other than to claim that a virtual school is “no different” than a private school. TECCA is a public school under Massachusetts law.

Bailey added that “the MIAA’s decision requires students to choose between dropping participation in a sport they love or enrolling in a district school, a choice that usually is not in their personal or academic interest.”

One statement from MIAA Executive Director Bob Baldwin may offer insight into the policy change. He said “principals, athletic directors, and guidance personnel should counsel students regarding athletic eligibility prior to committing to non-traditional educational pursuits.”

PioneerLegal is being assisted in this case on a pro bono basis by the law firm of Sullivan & Worcester. The plaintiffs plan to seek an injunction to prevent TECCA students from being prohibited from participating in high school sports during the Fall semester.


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PioneerLegal is a non-partisan, public interest law firm that defends and promotes educational options, accountable government and economic opportunity across the Northeast. PioneerLegal achieves its mission through legal research, amicus briefs, and litigation.