LINCOLN (SNR/NCC) – The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) Representative Assembly decisively rejected a proposal April 7 that would have unjustly punished success and effectively discriminated against students attending private religious schools.
It needed 31 favorable votes to pass. The Representative Assembly mustered only 18 votes in favor of the policy, as opposed to 33 votes against.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) has opposed the policy from the beginning, when it was first introduced last fall. As drafted, it would have required successful athletic teams to move up a class only if their schools had a low number of students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch and who receive special education services. Class A teams would have been exempt, and successful 8-man football teams would have been required to sit out of the playoffs.
“We applaud the Representative Assembly for defeating such an unfair policy,” said Tom Venzor, executive director of the NCC. “This is a win for students, common sense, and even the NSAA.”
The NSAA likely would have faced litigation had the policy become effective. The NCC argued that the proposal was clearly unconstitutional under the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The proposal targeted private schools for not receiving government funds to provide free tuition and high-end special education services. It thus imposed an indirect burden on faith-based students and schools, in violation of established First Amendment precedent in this jurisdiction.
The proposal also violated the Equal Protection rights of many private-school students who qualify to receive special education services from public schools, but who voluntarily forgo them to avoid traveling back and forth between schools. Instead these students receive services from qualified staff at their private school. Therefore, they would not have counted as “special education” students under the NSAA proposal.
Dr. Jim Tenopir, the NSAA’s executive director, had stated that an earlier proposal that would have “multiplied” the enrollment of private schools would have likely failed in court. The NCC notified him that the NSAA’s latest effort was just as unsound, and that it would have ultimately fell to a legal challenge.
“In the end, common sense and fairness prevailed,” Venzor said. “Every student has the right to attend a faith-based school and to be free from unjust discrimination. We’re glad the NSAA Representative Assembly agrees, and that students won’t be punished for merely pursuing excellence.”
The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) is the statewide association operated jointly by the Archdiocese of Omaha, Diocese of Grand Island, and Diocese of Lincoln. Located in Lincoln, the NCC represents the public policy interests of Nebraska’s three Roman Catholic bishops before the Nebraska legislature, the Nebraska delegation in Congress, and state agencies. The public policy issues addressed by the NCC include institutional concerns of the Catholic Church as well as issues related to Catholic moral and social teaching, human dignity, and the common good.