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Is participation in high school sports a right or privilege?

August 29, 2010

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As athletic user fees have become nearly universal in Boston-area school districts, they are raising a thorny question: Is playing a high school sport a right or a privilege?

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, or MIAA, the governing body for high school athletics in the state, says it takes no position on whether a student who doesn’t pay a fee or only partially pays a fee is entitled to play a sport.

“That is a matter of school district policy,’’ said MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzell. “Association schools have to implement our eligibility requirements when it comes to issues such as academic progress and discipline, but we take no position on that matter. It is our belief that if a student qualifies for free or reduced lunch, the fee should be waived’’ for that student to participate in sports.

Procedures to waive or reduce fees are in place in virtually every school district, and many link the user fees to the school lunch policy.

Haverhill High School was forced to change its collection procedures after nearly 100 students failed to pay their fees during the 2009-10 school year. One student’s report card was briefly withheld, and the school is still trying to recover $11,000 in unpaid fees.

Rich Fahey