Parents of Catholic schoolchildren won an important victory a few weeks ago with little fanfare. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) defeated a proposal that would have denied students the opportunity to participate in varsity athletics if they transfer to a new high school after ninth grade, except under extremely limited circumstances.Athletically motivated transfers are already disallowed under the current transfer rule, but the standard for determining eligibility is much more reasonable for both students and parents. Under the current rule, the principal from the sending school and the principal of the receiving school must sign-off on the transfer attesting that it is not for athletic intent. Even with the principals’ sign-offs, if any other school in that PIAA district fears the transfer was for athletic purposes it can challenge it. There is a system of recourse already in place.
The proposed rule change would have created a greater burden for parents and would likely penalize student athletes who are transferring into or out of nonpublic schools for any number of legitimate reasons that would not allow eligibility under the proposed new rule. Short of physically moving your family from one public school district to another, few reasons for transfer would have allowed athletic eligibility.
The proposal was, in part, explicitly targeted at parents who choose to transfer their child to a school “for social, philosophical, and/or religious reasons.” Those reasons for transfer were specifically singled out and characterized as pretexts or disguises for athletic motivation.
Catholic schools teach everything that is taught in public schools plus religion and religious morality. However, religion and morality are not merely classes that make up the curriculum. Gospel values, ethics and moral decision making permeate the very spirit of the education experience – even the athletic experience. These social, philosophical and religious considerations are the very reasons most parents chose a Catholic education for their family.
Last year in Pennsylvania, the parents of nearly 180,000 students chose Catholic school for their children. In addition to paying their taxes that fund the local public school, they pay tuition and other expenses. These parents understand that a sacrifice is necessary to provide a Catholic education for their children. Parents of student athletes should be free to evaluate all aspects of an educational opportunity including the social, philosophical or religious reasons without fear that their child will be penalized.
Fortunately, this proposal was defeated, but it is possible the issue will be revisited. Athletically motivated transfers are wrong and should be discouraged; but we should work towards ensuring that the current transfer rules are doing their job without infringing on the rights of parents to choose the education that is best for their children.
PCC Column July 2008 by A.B. Hill, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.