Private School Teams on Public Fields

I don’t know if this will go anywhere, but the lawsuit by the ACLU against the Pawtucket Parks and Rec Department for supposedly giving parochial schools priority over public schools for athletic field use caught my attention. As summarized at 7to7:

The ACLU, in a news release Wednesday, alleged that parks and recreation gave the preferential treatment in issuing permits for athletic field use to parochial schools over public schools.
The suit has been filed on behalf of seven Pawtucket parents and their children and it asks for the court to declare unconstitutional “both the preferential treatment to religious schools and the city’s lack of any objective standards” for issuing the permits for fields use.
As an example, the suit claims that O’Brien field has “been reserved exclusively” for Saint Raphael Academy after it was refurbished using tax dollars.
And junior high school teams at the city’s public schools have been denied use of two other fields, which are used by athletic teams from Saint Raphael and/or Bishop Keough Regional High Schools, the suit alleges.

I’m much more persuaded by the claim that the city has no objective standards for determining field use than by any supposed religious preferential treatment. (I suspect that any preference has more to do with who in the Pawtucket Parks and Rec may or may not be an alumnus of a particular school or not). Perhaps the most persuasive argument (PDF) is that these athletic fields were built and are maintained by public tax dollars, but the permitting has undeniably favored the athletic teams at St. Raphael’s over the public schools.

[F]or most of the period before and since the O’Brien Field has been refurbished through the use of public monies, Saint Raphael Academy has enjoyed the exclusive use of said field, particularly on week-day afternoons in the fall season, despite repeated requests by various public school officials for use of O’Brien Field for public school sponsored interscholastic sports, submitted to the City of Pawtucket’s Office of Parks and Recreation, by and through Defendant William D. Mulholland.

This is part of a larger debate: to what degree should public dollars support private education? Many (all?) municipalities are required to bus students to private schools within their zone, for instance. If private school is a choice–often made out of necessity–should the public (ie; the taxpayer) be expected to subsidize any portion of that education? (Keeping in mind that parents who send their kids to private school subsidize public schools via their taxes)? Would this all go away if a voucher-type system was enacted?

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12 years ago

This also sounds like an open and shut “duh” case for the plaintiffs. But what if St. Rays gives thousands of dollars a year for use of that field? I know of organizations that pay or offer to pay large sums of money ($40/hr and up) for public field usage. Maybe St. Rays is paying Pawtucket for the fields and that money goes into the city’s coffers and part of that money was used for refurbishing. Would that make a difference in this story? (This is just hypothetical and speculation about St. Ray’s paying. I know nothing about this specific situation.)

12 years ago

Or we could just end the failed public school experiment and privatize schools completely, but that would make far too much sense.

12 years ago

Something to consider: not all students at St. Ray’s are Pawtucket residents. A good number from neighboring communities attend. The city owns the fields, so city residents should have first priority, in this case, the public schools.

12 years ago

This isn’t the first time this issue has come up around the country, but the way I understand it, saying the first amendment is there to prevent the use of public property by any group associated with a religious school isn’t valid…
denial of equal access to public facilities causes government to violate the Establishment Clause, as a denial “would demonstrate not neutrality but hostility toward religion.” Westside Community Sch. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 248 (1990).

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
12 years ago

I wonder if this could be a simple “one hand washes the other”. If you run the numbers, you will see that the parochial school system in Boston is about the same size as the public school system. What would Boston do if those schools closed? I might point out that you need a microscope to find a white kid in the Boston public schools, that is just an aside.
What would Pawtucket do if those schools closed?
Might not be as conspiratorial as it appears.

12 years ago

Pretty remarkable here that the complaint filed by the ACLU’s attorney appears to be in blatant violation of the Federal Courts’ privacy rules.
If you follow the link in the ProJo story it will bring you to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court — the complaint includes the names of a number of minor students who apparently attend public schools in Pawtucket.
The applicable Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, and a specific Order of the Rhode Island federal court, prohibits inclusion of the full names of minors in such documents.
Maybe the ACLU thinks the rules don’t apply to them . . . . . . . ?

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