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    Ohio High School Sports Are In the Spotlight: How The OHSAA Referendum May Affect Your School District

    On August 1, 2023, the 12 measures passed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) annual referendum went into effect – impacting nearly 800 high schools.[1]  School districts should understand what passed, what failed, and what did not appear on the referendum as they navigate a changing world of high school sports in Ohio. 

    The OHSAA referendum is an annual voting period in May that solicits Ohio school districts to weigh in on Ohio high school athletic procedures and practices. The principal of each participating school casts one vote on each topic.

    Here are some highlights of the items that passed:

    • Issue 3B: Schools no longer need to monitor student athletes’ grades for College Credit Plus courses throughout the season. Instead, performance checks occur at the end of the grading period, and students enrolled in these courses are assumed to pass until they receive a failing grade or drop the class.
    • Issue 4B: To discourage student-athletes from transferring to a new school to avoid receiving an indefinite suspension, schools receiving such students have discretion to lift the suspension but must wait a calendar year before doing so.
    • Issue 5B: Non-enrolled school students (i.e., home-educated, community school, STEM school, or non-public) may transfer between their local public school and their non-public school in between seasons based on which school offers the sport.[2]
    • Issue 8B: If a student transfers to a new school after playing a regular season contest at their old school, the student cannot join the new team. However, the student may finish their participation on the old team.

    The only referendum topic that failed, Issue 1B, would have permitted a public school student to participate on a bordering public school district’s team if the student’s public school did not offer the sport (e.g., Student has no swimming team at Home High School A but could then swim for neighboring school district’s High School B). This was the second consecutive year the issue failed.

    Meanwhile, the Association did not vote on a Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) proposal, which had failed by wide margins the year before. Ohio is now in the minority of states to explicitly prohibit high school athletes to embark in marketing or promotional deals.[3] At the same time, it is not alone geographically, with only one neighboring state (Pennsylvania) to currently allow high school students to profit off their NIL. 

    Transgender student-athlete eligibility policies did not appear in the OHSAA referendum but have been a focus of possible legislation. OHSAA has had a policy in place since 2017 that requires a transgender female to complete a year of hormone treatment and/or demonstrate she does not possess a physical advantage over “genetic females.”[4] However, pending legislation known as the “Save Women’s Sports Act” would require the OHSAA to prohibit transgender females from participating in girls’ sports.[5] New proposed federal Title IX regulations may also come into play as this issue continues to be discussed and debated.[6]

    School districts should review their athletic handbook and Board policies to ensure they adhere with the new OHSAA bylaw changes, while keeping an eye on possible state and federal legislation that could supersede those bylaws. School districts should consult with legal counsel for any lingering issues.

     

    [2] Non-public school students are allowed to play for their local high school only when the non-public school does not offer the sport. See OHSAA, Commonly Asked Questions for Non-Enrolled Students, for further information. 

    [3] 30 states currently allow it.  See Richard Suter, Associate Press, Current high school NIL rules in each of the 50 states (plus D.C.) (June 25, 2023) for state-by-state rules.

    [5] The most recent bill is House Bill 6, which was voted out of the house committee on May 10, 2023.  See Ohio Legislative Service Comm., H.B. 6 Bill Analysis (May 10, 2023). 


    This is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be legal advice and does not create or imply an attorney-client relationship.

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