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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: Education Law
Satisfied Customers: 110397
Experience:  Attorney handling education matters.
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My question regards ***** ***** sports program in a public Minnesota

Customer Question

My question regards ***** ***** sports program in a public Minnesota High School. It's complicated, so I will try to make it as concise as possible. I am writing today representing a Parent Organization that is attached to our high school's varsity sailing team. The Parent Organization are the parents of the team sailors. We are having great difficulty getting much needed improvements made to our rapidly dwindling program because we are not like other "typical" HS sports and there is no set avenue to make improvements, get accountability, or hire a different coaching vendor.
My reason for seeking legal advice is because our group/team is caught in a Catch 22: due to the nature of our sport, we require a coaching vendor, which is hired by the HS Athletic Director (AD). The vendor (Lake Minnetonka Sailing School - LMSS) is a non-profit that is overseen by board members of the Minnetonka Yacht Club (also a non-profit) i.e. the admin director and sailing coaches are their employees. The LMSS coaching vendor has no signed contract with the HS/AD. They are not paid by the HS or AD. Yet, the HS/AD considers the LMSS an “extension” of his Athletic Department. We parents/team members pay fees directly to the LMSS, except for a single Activity Fee charged by the school once a year. We can pay over $1000 per year to sail at the HS.
The coach of a typical HS team is usually an individual who is hired by the coach. I believe they have contracts, but am not 100% sure. There are standards for performance and conduct. They are employees of the HS (I think).
A sailing team requires an independent vendor to provide coaches, equipment (sailboats/trailors) and rostering. This is true of every sailing team in the US. We are rare because our sailors can earn varsity letters for their participation in this sport.
Sailing teams are also different because all HS sailing teams or clubs must pay dues to the ISSA (inter Scholastic Sailing Association) AND follow THEIR rules or else we cannot compete state-wide, regionally or nationally. This is one area of problems, as the HS/AD has given conflicting instructions to the coach vendor. We have appealed to him to see that he cannot do this, but he wants to treat us like any other sports team. Now we need a way to force him to allow us to follow ISSA rules.
Another problem area is that, since he is not really the employer of the coach vendor, he is not holding the staff to any performance or conduct standards. The MYC board is the vendor’s employer, therefore the HS/AD is basically a lame duck, and so are we. We cannot extricate the vendor from our program as long as the HS/AD allows it to continue — without a contract.
The vendor is doing a terrible job. The vendor includes an Admin Director and 2 coaches. We don’t need a full-time admin director and we certainly can’t pay for one, yet the HS/AD is forcing us to pay for and use her. We only need the 2 coaches, equipment and rostering.
This January the varsity team parents spent countless hours trying to figure out how to improve the program through better communications, recruitment planning, fundraising and more. All the things that the LMSS admin director was not doing (and getting paid for) and we working parents were doing for free. When we started implementing the improvements (for example we created a much more robust sign-up google doc with lots of important information on it that parents desperately needed), she (the LMSS admin director) raised the season fee by $100, and implemented excessing travel coaching fees and requirements (which are contrary to the ISSA rules). She created her own Handbook which allowed the vendor staff (when travelling) to not have to travel or lodge with the team, and allows them to drink (! — the HS/AD was a little shocked at this one).
Our next step will be to take things to the Principal, but honestly we are pretty convinced he will just side with the HS/AD. There are so many details to this to understand what a quandry we are in, he won’t want to touch us with a ten-foot pole and will probably just defer to the HS/AD. Therefore, we need to know:
1) if we have any legal grounds to insist on a written contract and how can we have control/input over it
2) how to make the HS/AD defer to our true governing body, ISSA
3) force the HS/AD to define us as something different than a typical HS team so that we can create true avenues for program planning and improvements
4) remove the LMSS admin director as a forced paid addition to the program, while keeping the coaches
There is actually much more going on than I have written here, but mainly we, the parent organization, needs to find where we have authority or leverage to fix what’s broken before the well-meaning but clueless HS/AD and the retaliatory/incompetent LMSS admin director drives the entire program into the ground. FYI we have been one of the top teams in the midwest, but that is rapidly changing.
We cannot move the program to another vendor unless our HS/AD gives it his blessing, because he may not allow us to take the varsity letter capability with us, and that is a huge incentive for kids to sail in our program. Here again, we are stuck.
The team’s parent organization is not a 501c3, therefore we are not truly a booster (yet the HS/AD says we are). Not sure if this impacts our ability to take legal action, if necessary. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
Submitted: 6 months ago.
Category: Education Law
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 6 months ago.
Thank you for your question. I look forward to working with you to provide you the information you are seeking for educational purposes only.
Unfortunately, as long as the team is tied to the school in any manner, you have a problem, because the school controls the program. This means that as long as they are tied to the school, the school faces liability and therefore has the right to control the vendor program.
You have some options, beginning with the principal first as you were considering. Second, you can go to the school board itself to seek to get them to take action, as the HS AD is the school's and school board's employee and they are his supervisors ultimately. You also can seek assistance through the HS Athletic Association to try to mediate and resolve this dispute.
Finally though, if they refuse to take action, you have to consider seeking to separate the team from the school and making the choice regarding giving up letters in exchange for sailing and getting experience to get the children into college programs or trying to work with the vendor. This is the only real way to come under the ISSA purely and you have to make that choice if you cannot resolve it.
Until you do so, the only one who can remove anyone from the vendor program is the school, since they have the contract technically with the vendor and as long as they are operating under the name of the school's name the school has the responsibility, not the parent's club.
As far as legal action, as a parent's club, you have no legal standing based on what you describe, since the school is the party in contract with the vendor, even though the parents manage the program as you are saying.
You cannot do anything about forcing the school's hand other than terminating the program under the school and forming a private amateur sailing program.
So you have some options, but as far as legal options they are fairly limited because of the nature of how this program is set up.

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