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Lawsuit claims school district discriminates against parochial students

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(The Center Square) – A group of parents says State College Area School District bars their children from joining extracurricular activities simply because they attend faith-based schools.

The families, members of the Religious Rights Foundation, recently filed a lawsuit against the district for prohibiting their students from participating in sports, clubs, and college-level classes, based on religious discrimination.

According to the Thomas More Society, which represents the families, the school district has violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Charter school and home school students who live in the district are permitted to partake in over 100 extracurricular and co-curricular activities, though parochial students are not. This occurs “even though they meet “all material respects to attend the State College Area School District and to participate in the extracurricular and cocurricular activities the State College Area School District,” according to the filed complaint.

Thomas Breth, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, believes it is “extremely important” that all opportunities provided to students are provided equally and to eliminate all kinds of discrimination.

“That’s really all we’re asking the State College Area School District to do,” he said. “We’re pointing out one area where there is discrimination that continues to this day and we’re asking [the State College Area School District] to take the steps to correct it.”

In an e-mail response to one parent’s request, the superintendent of the school district, Curtis Johnson, explained that there would not be a change in policy to allow parochial students to participate on sports teams.

“The district has ample, and sometimes excess, participation for our teams, so there is no need to expand,” he said. “Additionally, if we allow private school students to take part, we could be taking away opportunities from SCASD students.”

Breth argues that Johnson’s reasoning isn’t “appropriate” because students and their parents are residents of and pay taxes in the district. If this was a legitimate reason, he added, it should also apply to charter and home school students.

Any opportunity provided to these students should also be provided to parochial school students, Breth says. “Anything short of that, quite honestly, is discrimination,” he said. “And it should be stopped.”

The Thomas More Society requests that the court find the school district is violating the students’ rights and grant them the right to participate in the extracurricular and co-curricular activities of the students in the State College Area School District.

The attorneys are willing to have a conversation with the school district to resolve the issue without litigation. Their goal is to have students participate in these activities immediately. If litigation is required, the issue is hoped to be resolved by next year.

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