Judge: Canterbury School student's learning disability doesn't net additional year of athletic eligibility

By Florida Record | Apr 19, 2019

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FORT MYERS — A federal judge has denied a Florida high school senior's emergency try to gain another year of athletic eligibility, upholding an earlier decision which found the student's learning disability wasn't enough to allow him to force the Florida High School Athletic Association to sidestep a rule limiting student athletes to only four years of playing time while in high school.

According to the April 4 U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Fort Myers Division Opinion and Order, plaintiff Thomas Pritchard filed the emergency motion for reconsideration regarding the court's March 2019 denial of a preliminary injunction against the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Pritchard's motion stems from his lawsuit filed in February in which Pritchard alleges Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 violations due to the defendant not allowing him to continue to play for the Canterbury School's lacrosse, basketball and football programs. 

Pritchard, who transferred to the Florida high school from Virginia where he participated in school athletics, is a senior. He was required to repeat the 10th grade due to a learning disability and was told he is not eligible to participate in athletics during his senior year for what would be his fifth consecutive year in high school sports. Pritchard was told he was not eligible because five years exceeds Florida High School Athletic Association regulations of four consecutive years to participate in high school sports.  

In February, Pritchard was denied a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions to allow him to play, when a judge determined he was not being allowed to play "solely" due to his disability. Pritchard alleges that after his previous court petition was denied, he discovered the defendant did not disclose that it has additional information that could have determined if more than one student received a "bylaw waiver" to be allowed to participate in the sports programs for more than four years. 

U.S. District Judge John Steele concluded Pritchard's new evidence "has no substance" and that it was not a sufficient reason "to warrant reconsideration." The judge denied Pritchard's motion.

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