AG: SCHSL proposal would violate state law

The S.C. High School League’s proposal to force private schools such as Bishop England to play up a classification likely would have violated state law, according to an opinion from the state attorney general’s office.

The High School League’s executive committee tabled that proposal on Tuesday after voting to move from four classifications to five for high school athletics beginning in 2016-17.

The High School League had been considering an amendment that would have forced private schools and charter schools to adopt the “attendance area and enrollment count of the public school in which the school is located not to exceed one classification above its enrollment count.”

That proposal would have forced Class AA Bishop England, which considers Charleston County its attendance area for athletic purposes, to move up to Class AAA. It also would have forced Greenville-area private schools Christ Church and St. Joseph’s to compete in Class AA instead of Class A.

The proposal was sparked by the dominance private schools have exhibited in some sports — Bishop England has won 15 straight state volleyball championships and three of the last four in girls’ basketball; Christ Church has won four straight Class A football titles and a state-record 54 straight games; and St. Joseph’s has won four straight Class A volleyball titles and three straight in baseball.

State Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) and Rep. Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) each requested opinions from state attorney general Alan Wilson on the legality of the proposal.

The opinion, issued by solicitor general Robert Cook, says that “while only a court may so conclude, it is our opinion that it would likely find that the proposed change in policy by the South Carolina High School League violates State law.”

Also, the opinion says “a court could also conclude that SCHSL is violating the Equal Protection Clause of the federal constitution.”

The High School League’s executive committee decided not to vote on the proposal after a five-classification plan was approved Tuesday.

That plan will reorganize the High School League’s 207 schools into five divisions instead of four, applying equally to public and private school members. The net effect for Bishop England probably will be competing in Class AAA in a five-class system instead of Class AA in a four-class system.

Wando athletic director Bob Hayes, a member of the executive committee, said that with the five-class system in place for 2016-17, it made sense to table the private-school proposal.

“The amendment that was passed (by the legislative body) was based on having four classes,” he said. “If we are committed to going to five classes, then we needed to table that change so we can work through reclassification.”