VIPS students will have to take two classes at Maries R-1 to be on middle school sports teams

Laura Schiermeier
Staff Writer

VIENNA — After doing further research into the issue, Maries R-1 Superintendent Mark Parker told the school board he can’t recommend allowing students from a private school to participate on R-1 sports teams unless they are part time R-1 students. 

At the school board’s March meeting, Parker said it is in the best interest of the district to not allow students from Visitation Inter-Parish School (VIPS) in Vienna, who are interested in playing on R-1 Middle School sports teams, to be on these teams in the manner they previously discussed. At the February school board meeting, Parker and High School Principal Ian Murray said they did some research and found it probably would be okay to form a coop between the two schools in order for the VIPS students athletes to participate. 

However, after further research by Parker and contact with the school attorney, Parker found out the school will open itself up to litigation if it goes forward with the coop without asking those VIPS students who participate in sports to be part time students at R-1.

The Missouri Constitution is clear about not allowing public  money or property to be granted to any private individual, association or corporation. The school’s attorney stated allowing VIPS to participate in R-1 sports without charging a fee and without them being enrolled in the district, would be considered a grant of public money or a thing of value to an association or individual. The easiest way would be to charge a fee but there are problems in calculating the fee.  Parker told the board he had “to make sure we do what we need to do” on this issue. 

The attorney said R-1 could lessen its liability by charging a fee for playing on the teams. That fee would need to be very specific in what it was paying for. Each parochial school student would need to be charged proportionately for use of the coaches, including benefits, the bus driver, bus, uniforms, equipment, facilities, insurance premiums, facility maintenance and any and all other expenses paid by Maries R-1. Even if Maries R-1 came up with this fee that covered everything, it still would not eliminate the chance of a lawsuit on the grounds the fee is not sufficient. Additionally, MSHSAA would have to approve the applications submitted by Maries R-1 and VIPS.

Parker said they discovered the easiest way to allow VIPS students to participate with R-1 Middle School sports teams is for the VIPS students two take two classes during the semester of the sport they are participating in. This would classify them as part time students. There would be no fees for the VIPS students to participate and they would be counted with the district’s ADA numbers. 

Parker cited rule JEA about part time attendance and number six of the rule says they may participate in all district extracurricular activities. 

He talked to other schools who have coops but they have a need. Board member Penny Schoene said in this case, Maries R-1 does not have a need but VIPS does. Board member Dave Garro said if Maries R-1 was small and didn’t have enough students for a team, then a coop would be okay. He said it’s usually two small, public school districts, not a public district entering into a coop with a private school. Schoene added she was approached by someone who was concerned about the legality of private school student participation on public school sports teams. 

Parker said the part time approach can work. Already, some VIPS students come to R-1 to take band classes. They also have taken agriculture classes. For it to work, they would have to take two classes for the entire semester of the sport they participate in. This approach will take cooperation by both schools. Murray said Maries R-1 can do a discovery class. Parker said VIPS students can come to the public school and take art, algebra or any of the middle school classes. This can be figured out. Schoene said she sees the options. Murray said VIPS students who do this will have to follow all of the R-1 rules, including discipline, as stated in the handbook. 

Parker said some schools charge a fee and others don’t and some charge a fee for all students who participate in sports. Board member Vicki Bade said she doesn’t think they should charge VIPS students if they don’t charge district students. Bade said she thinks the part time student is the best approach.

Garro said the opportunity is there for VIPS students if they are willing to come to school at R-1 for a couple of hours each day. 

Parker said the part time policy is his recommendation as this issue’s solution. He will contact VIPS and it will be up to the school and parents if their students participate on R-1 Middle School sports teams next year.