A central Pennsylvania school district is being sued by the parents of a
female middle school student who claims she is being unfairly denied the opportunity to participate on a wrestling team because of her gender.
Brian and Angie Beattie, who reside in Herndon, Pa., recently filed a federal civil rights action in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on behalf of their daughter, who is only identified as “A.B.,” a seventh-grader in the Line Mountain School District.
The suit says that A.B., a straight-A student and year-round athlete who plays soccer and softball, and is also an accomplished equestrian and wrestler, was denied the chance to wrestle for Line Mountain Middle School in February of this year on the basis of her sex, an alleged violation of the girl’s state and federal constitutional rights.
The girl began wrestling when she was in third grade in her native Iowa, the complaint states, and she practiced with both boys and girls while on the team in the mid-western state.
Soon after the Beattie family moved to Northumberland County, Pa., which is just north of Harrisburg, back in the summer of 2012, the plaintiffs’ daughter wrestled on the Line Mountain youth team, which was open to elementary school students up to sixth grade.
As a member of the team, the suit says, A.B. practiced with boys, she participated in every dual meet and in at least five tournaments, and she competed against both boys and girls.
Earlier this year, after the girl began middle school, Angie Beatie asked the school’s wrestling coach if her daughter could participate on the team.
The coach allegedly told the plaintiff that he personally would have no problem with her daughter joining the team, but that school policy prohibited girls from wrestling on middle and high school teams and that the family would have to appeal to the school board to have the rules changed.
The board of trustees of the rural, central Pennsylvania school district had adopted its gender participation policy governing athletics in the summer of 2005, according to the complaint.
The policy, the suit states, “prohibits female participation on male varsity, junior varsity and junior high interscholastic athletics, except when any such team is specifically designated a co-ed team by the administration with the formal approval of the School Board.”
The policy states that its purpose is to address the “physiological differences between male and female athletes.”
Brian Beattie asked the school board to review its policy during a meeting he attended this spring, the complaint states.
The district’s superintendent eventually responded to the plaintiff’s request, informing him that A.B. could not participate on the wrestling team because district policy prohibits it.
The district again denied the man’s request, even after the plaintiff asserted that the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
School Board President Troy Laudenslager, the suit says, told Brian Beattie that other parents whose sons participate on the district’s and competing schools’ wrestling teams “would be forced to be uncomfortable or forfeit” if the girl was allowed on the team.
The plaintiffs eventually submitted their request to have their daughter allowed on the team to the district’s solicitor, but the parents were told the district would be sticking by its policy.
Practice for the upcoming wrestling season begins in early November and sign-ups are slated to begin on Nov. 4 and 5, the suit states.
If A.B. is not permitted to participate on the middle school’s wrestling team, she will “miss opportunities to practice and compete on a wrestling team,” the lawsuit states. “Such missed opportunities would cause her to fall behind in her development as a wrestler and prevent her from being able to compete in the future.
“Without being permitted to participate on the wrestling team, A.B. will have no school team on which she will be able to regularly practice and compete with wrestlers in the same weight classification and same skill level,” the complaint continues. “Being denied the opportunity to wrestle on the Line Mountain team will be a personal loss to participate in a sport about which A.B. is passionate and in which she is driven to participate.”
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the district’s athletic policy violates students’ state and federal constitutional rights.
They also seek to have a judge enjoin the district from enforcing its policy.
The Beattie’s also seek costs and attorneys’ fees.
They are being represented by attorney Abbe F. Fletman of the Philadelphia firm Flaster Greenberg PC, and lawyer Terry L. Fromson of the Philadelphia-based Women’s Law Project.
The federal case number is 4:13-cv-02655-MWB.