Editors note: This post was written by WLRN reporter Luc Cohen.
The state does not explicitly prohibit schools from charging students to participate in school sports.
But many Florida schools have their own policies banning the practice.
Earlier this month, the Broward Bulldog published a story accusing the cheerleading booster club at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland of collecting tens of thousands of dollars from parents in order for their children to be on the team.
The State Investigative Unit has opened an investigation into the allegations. The booster club has since disbanded and handed over all financial operations to the school.
But the issue raises a question about pay to play policies in Florida.
There is nothing in the Florida High School Athletic Association bylaws explicitly prohibiting athletic teams from charging students to participate, according to the Director of Eligibility, Michael Colby.
“There is no such language,” Colby said in an email.
But in Broward County, independent school-related organizations, like booster clubs, are not allowed to charge students to play sports, according to the school district’s Standard Practice Bulletin.
The bulletin says independent school-related organizations, “may not charge parents a fee for instructional materials, equipment or supplies related to the school program or activities.”
But there seem to be varying interpretations as to what it means to ‘charge parents a fee.’
As the Broward Bulldog reported, parent Joann Gavin claims she was required to make an $800 payment to the cheerleading booster club in order for her daughter Marissa, who just finished tenth grade, to stay on the squad.
“These are tough times, and not every parent can afford this,” Gavin said. “Is that fair?”
When WLRN reached out the booster club, members said they did indeed ask for fees to cover things like uniforms and travel costs.
But members say they did not kick students off the squad if parents could not come up with the cash.
So does that qualify as a pay to play requirement?
Booster Club President Joy Kelley said parents were charged mostly for gear, bus and hotel fees that they signed up for voluntarily.
“We broke it down to literally every dollar, every penny, and we have every receipt,” Kelly said.
She says students who were unable to pay the dues were allowed to remain on the team.
Broward County Public Schools Public Relations representative Nadine Drew said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
Drew did confirm that the booster club began managing the team’s finances this year, while the school controlled them last year.
What do you think?
Is it okay for schools-related organizations to ask students for money, as long as they don’t kick students off the team for not paying up?