A judge ruled in favor of public charter and private high schools Monday in a lawsuit against the South Carolina High School League, granting an injunction that would push back amendments those schools deemed to be illegal and "contrary to the League's mission and purpose".
The lawsuit took issue with March amendments to the SCHSL's transfer eligibility rules and "pre-existing illegal provisions in the League's Constitution and By-laws" that the plaintiffs felt targeted the SCHSL's private and public charter schools, including Fox Creek.
Richland County judge Jocelyn Newman granted the temporary injunction, which the SCHSL will have the opportunity to appeal, after concluding that the plaintiffs established that they would "suffer irreparable harm" if the injunction were not granted.
Therefore, those March amendments will not apply to the upcoming school year, as they were set to become effective on July 1.
The initial suit, filed in May in Greenville County, took issue with eligibility and transfer rules. In the suit, the plaintiffs argued that students' right to "school choice" was being impeded.
The SCHSL's rule about establishing "original eligibility" in the seventh grade was unfair, as stated in the lawsuit, because many of the charter and private schools don't serve seventh grade students and don't have middle schools automatically feeding their high schools.
Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed the SCHSL made "illegal changes" to transfer eligibility rules, as most students who transfer from a traditional school to a public charter or private school would have to sit out a year before being eligible to play for an athletic team.
Also, athletes who made that transfer within the same school district would have had to sit out a year. The lawsuit deemed that to be unfair, as the same ruling did not apply should the same athlete transfer to a different traditional public school within the same district.
The SCHSL fired back, filing a motion days later to dismiss the suit. However, Judge Perry H. Gravely threw out that motion and transferred the venue to Richland County, which is where the SCHSL offices are located.
There, Newman ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
"Plaintiffs here have shown irreparable harm," her order reads. "It is clear that if the amendments become effective during the pendency of litigation, the makeup of the student bodies – and, therefore, the interscholastic athletic teams – of Plaintiffs will be altered."
"... Despite the League's arguments to the contrary," the order continues, "Plaintiffs are likely to suffer economic loss, alteration of reputation, and potential loss of business in the absence of injunctive relief."
Plaintiffs, in addition to Fox Creek, include the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina and members Brashier Middle College, Greenville Tech, Greer Middle College, Palmetto Scholars Academy, Legion Collegiate Academy, Oceanside Collegiate Academy, Gray Collegiate Academy; plus private schools Bishop England, Christ Church, St. Joseph's and Southside Christian.
Those schools are all in the smaller classifications of the SCHSL; only Bishop England, Fox Creek and Oceanside Collegiate will be in Class AAA this upcoming school year, with the latter two moving up from Class AA in the latest round of SCHSL realignment. The other charter and private schools are in Class AA and A, where they've dominated the state championship races.