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Four private schools file federal lawsuit against CIF Southern Section

June 20, 2013 |  1:57 pm

And so it begins.

Law firms representing Ventura St. Bonaventure, La Verne Damien, Glendora St. Lucy's and Westlake Village Oaks Christian filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court on Thursday challenging the CIF Southern Section’s decision to place the schools’ sports programs into a competition area with similar parochial schools.

The schools are seeking an injunction to prevent the Southern Section from placing them into the parochial area for the 2014-15 releaguing cycle. Previously, St. Bonaventure and Oaks Christian were part of the Northern Area and Damien and St. Lucy’s were part of the Mt. SAC Area, both of which included public schools.

All four schools were turned down in appeals earlier this year before the Southern Section Executive Committee. Three law firms representing the four schools decided to coordinate their actions with three lawsuits that allege religious discrimination and lack of administrative due process.

Named as defendants are Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod, the Southern Section and the California Interscholastic Federation that oversees high school sports in the state.

Robert Prata, who represents Damien and St. Lucy’s, an all-girls school, said challenging the Southern Southern was “our last resort.” He said that the Southern Section “failed to abide by its own rules,” and made decisions that violated the state education code, the state Constitution and U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment.

The Southern Section will have 21 days to answer the claims or file a motion to dismiss. This is the second time in recent years that a high-profile private school has challenged a Southern Section decision made by the commissioner of athletics.

In 2010, Santa Ana Mater Dei and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange filed a lawsuit, alleging that the section had acted in a “discriminatory manner” in how rules were enforced toward its student athletes.

The lawsuit was dropped last year after Mater Dei officials decided there had been a “change in attitude” under new commissioner Wigod.

The four schools have already been placed in new leagues for the 2014-15 releaguing cycle, but a legal victory could force everyone to go back to the drawing board in creating new leagues.

 The Southern Section has denied that moving the four schools is an effort to separate private and public schools in sports competition.

-- Eric Sondheimer