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Harpswell Coastal Academy v. M.S.A.D. 75

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

December 19, 2016

M.S.A.D. 75, Defendant


          Thomas D. Warren, Justice

         Before the court is a motion for summary judgment by defendant M.S.A.D. 75.

         In this action plaintiffs Harpswell Coastal Academy, Wesley Withers, Carrie Withers, and John Doe seek to establish that students at charter schools have a statutory and constitutional right to try out for athletic teams and other extracurricular activities at their local public schools even when the local school superintendent has determined that students at the local public schools should have first priority.

         The specific dispute that gave rise to this action was a decision by MSAD 75 Superintendent Bradley Smith that the son of plaintiffs Wesley and Carrie Withers, a student attending Harpswell Coastal Academy who is designated as "John Doe" in this action, would not be allowed to try out for the 8th grade basketball team at Mt. Ararat Middle School.

         In an order dated January 16, 2016 the court denied a motion by plaintiffs for a stay of administrative action and a preliminary injunction. Subsequently, in an order dated June 16, 2016 the court ruled against plaintiffs' Rule 80B appeal from the Superintendent Smith's decision.

         The remaining issues in this case are plaintiffs' claim in Count II of the complaint for a declaratory judgment that respondent MSAD 75's policy violates 20-A M.R.S. § 2415 and plaintiffs' section 1983 claim in Count III that John Doe has been deprived of equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

         Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment should be granted if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to consider only the portions of the record referred to and the material facts set forth in the parties' Rule 56(h) statements. E.g., Johnson v. McNeil, 2002 ME 99 ¶ 8, 800 A.2d 702. The facts must be considered in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. Thus, for purposes of summary judgment, any factual disputes must be resolved against the movant. Nevertheless, when the facts offered by a party in opposition to summary judgment would not, if offered at trial, be sufficient to withstand a motion for judgment as a matter of law, summary judgment should be granted. Rodrigue v. Rodrigue, 1997 ME 99 ¶ 8, 694 A.2d 924.

         In this case plaintiffs have admitted virtually all of the statements in MSAD 75's Statement of Material Facts (SMF), and the court concludes that all material facts are undisputed. Although plaintiffs have raised certain objections to the evidentiary support offered for two of the assertions in MSAD 75's SMF, in the court's view those objections are either not well-founded or verge on the hypertechnical.[1] In any event, the court would reach the same result even if it disregarded those assertions in their entirety.

         The essential facts are that one or more students at Harpswell Coastal Academy, a charter school that enrolls students in grades 6-11, have sought to try out for the Mt. Ararat athletic teams but were denied the opportunity to try out by Bradley Smith, Superintendent of MSAD 75. The students who have sought to try out for Mt. Ararat athletic teams reside within MSAD 75. Harpswell Coastal Academy does currently not offer extracurricular athletic activities or field athletic teams.

         The decision by Superintendent Smith not to let the Harpswell Coastal Academy students try out was based on a July 2015 policy adopted by MSAD 75 which states that an MSAD 75 school

does not have capacity to provide a charter school student the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activity when all available slots and positions for the activity are taken by regularly enrolled students. A student enrolled in MSAD 75 schools will not be denied the opportunity to participate in favor of a student enrolled in a charter school.

         In cases where not enough regular Mt. Ararat students have sought to try out for a team to fill all the existing slots, Superintendent Smith has allowed Harpswell Coastal Academy students to participate. Defendant's SMF ¶ 28 (admitted).

         Plaintiffs are not seeking relief that would require MSAD 75 to expand the rosters of existing teams to accommodate Harpswell Coastal Academy students. See Petitioners' Rule 80B brief at 8 n.3 ("Plaintiffs do not challenge MSAD 75's right to determine the size of its extracurricular teams"). They are instead seeking to require MSAD 75 to allow charter school students to try out ...

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