A Nassau County Supreme Court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Massapequa’s school district that sought to overturn the decision to not play high school sports this fall.
According to Newsday’s Robert Rubin, Justice Jack L. Libert ruled that Section VIII, the governing body for high school sports in Nassau County, “acted within the lawful scope of its authority” when it decided against playing high school sports in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Section VIII’s plan for play compresses all three sports seasons between January and June, with fall sports being played in March and April.
On Aug. 24, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued guidance permitting lower-risk sports such as cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming and tennis to begin practice and play on Sept. 21. Two days later, the Section VIII Superintendents’ Board unanimously voted to delay the start of fall sports “out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety” of students.
“We looked out for the health of our kids,” Section VIII executive director Pat Pizzarelli said of the decision. “We all want our kids out there competing, but it has to be done safely.”
Less than two weeks after Section VIII’s decision to postpone the fall sports season, Massapequa’s school district filed court papers on Sept. 9. On Sept. 17, the Section VIII Athletic Council approved a motion to delay the fall season by a 12-2 vote with two abstentions.
Of Massapequa’s petition, Libert said that Section VIII’s decision had to be made by the Athletic Council and that Massapequa skipped over the appeals process before bringing the suit, failing to “exhaust its administrative remedies.” Libert concluded that even if Massapequa had followed proper procedure, Section VIII’s decision to postpone fall sports “was supported by substantial evidence and was not “arbitrary and capricious,” as Massapequa had claimed.
“I wish it hadn’t come to this — doing this in court,” Pizzarelli said. “We’re still learning things about this disease. Numbers are going up in a lot of places. Protecting the health of the kids has to be the priority.”
Despite Massapequa’s lawsuit falling short, there is still hope for Section VIII’s decision to be overturned. The Island Trees school district filed an appeal of the decision with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. An appeals hearing for both sides was held last Friday and a ruling is expected before the end of this week.