Home Schoolers Mom Sues Over Piaa Ban Keeping Her Son Off Christian Schools Sports Teams

02.10.14 | Bob Price

Saying the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is misinterpreting its own rules, an East Shore mother is waging a court fight to get her home-schooled son on a local Christian school's soccer and basketball teams.

So far, according to Shonda Chapman, her ninth-grade son has only been permitted to practice on those squads at Covenant Christian Academy in Susquehanna Township.

Attempts to convince PIAA officials to allow her son, identified in court filings only by his initials, to actually play in interscholastic games have been unsuccessful, and the PIAA has not permitted her to appeal its decision, Chapman contends.

She launched her legal battle by filing suit in Dauphin County Court. The PIAA, however, is seeking to move the case to U.S. Middle District Court.

Among other arguments, Chapman contends the PIAA's stance is violating her son's constitutional rights, along with the Pennsylvania Public School Code and the PIAA's own regulations regarding the participation of home-schooled children in sports.

Alan R. Boynton, an attorney representing the PIAA in the case, declined comment on Chapman's suit Monday.

Chapman claims that Covenant Christian officials are agreeable to her son playing with his teammates in games with other schools. Only the PIAA stands in the way of her child being able to do that, the Susquehanna Township woman contends.

According to her suit, Chapman enrolled her son in two classes at Covenant Christian for the current school year and paid a $75 activity fee that school officials said would allow him to participate in extracurricular sports. He remains classified as a full-time home-schooled student, however.

Chapman claims in her suit that she enrolled the boy at the academy because she and her husband "sought out a God-centered environment in which their son could play competitive sports." At Covenant, the coach prays with the players and members of both teams pray before and after games, she notes.

Her son began practicing with Covenant's soccer team at the start of the school year, but questions soon arose about his eligibility to play in games. Chapman claims her child had to sit out the soccer season, and has missed playing through most of the basketball season because the PIAA deemed him ineligible after Covenant's headmaster asked the association for clarification regarding his status.

Chapman claims the PIAA barred her from attending a meeting during which her son's eligibility was addressed. She contends that the organization concluded that its rules "preclude home school students enrolled in private religious schools from playing in PIAA events."

The chairman of the PIAA's District III told Chapman and Covenant's headmaster "that there was no appeals process beyond this determination," the suit states.

Chapman contends that the ban is "arbitrary," and "irrational" and is no more than an "unwritten official policy" that rests on a misinterpretation. In her suit, she asks the court to rule that her son is eligible to play in PIAA-sanctioned games.

There would be no such issue if her son wanted to play as a home-schooler on teams in Susquehanna Township School District, because home-shoolers are allowed by the PIAA to play on teams fielded by the public school districts in which they live, she contends. She claims the Public School Code extends the same right to home-schoolers in her son's situation.

Also, the PIAA's stance violates her "fundamental right to direct the education of her son," Chapman argues. "It is not for the PIAA to take away (her son's) opportunity to play PIA sports at a private religious school," she contends.

Meanwhile, her son is being deprived of a fleeting opportunity since his freshman basketball season "is quickly running out," Chapman says in her suit. "He cannot regain this time lost to participate in high school sports."

Chapman is asking Judge Yvette Kane to promptly schedule a hearing on the dispute, a request that the PIAA is opposing. 

In court filings by Boynton, the PIAA notes that Chapman allowed for the whole fall and nearly all of the winter sports seasons to pass before filing her suit. The spring competition season doesn't begin until late March.

Boynton contends in those filings that "the law will be shown to be contrary to (Chapman's) position" once the dispute is thoroughly argued. Meanwhile, he wrote, Chapman's son "remains fully eligible to to participate in PIAA competition, just not for the school at which he takes two classes."