Laurel County Schools drop athletic rule at center of lawsuit

LONDON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Laurel County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to abolish a controversial athletic rule that led to a federal discrimination lawsuit, according to the Times-Tribune.

The rule is called “play up, stay up.”  In the school district’s 2018-19 athletic handbook, it states “students can only play at one grade level while participating in athletics at the middle school level,” and if a student does play at a higher level, “the student must remain at that level.”

Soccer, volleyball and girls’ basketball were exempt from the rule, which led to the gender discrimination lawsuit.

All this season, the North Laurel Middle School girls’ basketball teams have allowed members of the seventh-grade team to play at their respective level before playing at the eighth-grade level and then again at the seventh-grade level.  Members of the boys’ basketball teams were not allowed the same benefit, according to the newspaper.

That led to the lawsuit, which was filed by Jackie Steele, whose son plays on the boys’ middle school basketball team.  Steele is the commonwealth’s attorney for Laurel and Knox counties.

He argued the school district was in violation of Title IX law, the U.S. Constitution and Kentucky Constitution by discriminating against male student-athletes.

A federal judge last week ruled in favor of Steele and his son.  As part of the ruling, the school district was ordered to either abolish the “play up, stay up” rule entirely or revise it so it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender, according to the newspaper report.

The Board of Education did have the option to appeal the judge’s ruling, which would have sent it to an appellate court for further review.  Instead, the board abolished the rule during a 40-minute executive session Thursday at a special-called meeting, according to the Times-Tribune.


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