A federal judge allowed claims of unequal treatment by a high school basketball player to proceed against his school district. The claims arose out of the student’s move from the attendance area of one high school within the district to another. The case, Hodges v. Valley View Community Unit School District 356U, is a reminder to school districts of the importance of treating students equally in residency investigations and athletics eligibility determinations.
In November 2009, Devon Hodges moved from the attendance area of Romeoville High School, where he was a star on the basketball team, to Bolingbrook High School. Both schools are located in Valley View School District. He alleges that after his move, Valley View staff members accused him of residency violations, spread false rumors about him, sabotaged his meetings with college recruiters, and otherwise harassed him for leaving the first school’s basketball team. The student filed suit in federal court alleging a number of constitutional complaints.
The court allowed only one claim to survive a motion to dismiss: a “class of one” claim under the equal protection clause of the federal constitution. Under such a claim, the student alleged that the District treated him differently from others who were similar to him, without any rational basis for doing so. The student alleged that other students moved between schools within the District during the school year, but that only he was harassed to continue attending his first school. The court held that the student had sufficiently alleged such a claim. This was true even though he did not identify any other particular student who had moved, like him, but who was treated differently.
Notably, the court did allow a small victory to the school district. The student sought to hold the Board of Education liable for the discrimination he said he suffered. The discrimination was caused, according to the student, by the Superintendent of the school district. But to hold the Board liable for the Superintendent’s actions, the student would have to show that the Superintendent had final policymaking authority. With respect to residency, however, Illinois law gives the Board—not the Superintendent—final policymaking authority. Accordingly, the court held, any action taken or approved by the Superintendent could not establish an equal protection violation by the Board.