Future high school student-athletes who repeat a grade because of learning disabilities won't risk losing their athletics opportunities as seniors — the legacy of recent Ashby, Minn., High School graduate Deklin Goeden.
The Minnesota State High School League's Representative Assembly voted 48-0 this month to change the language of Bylaw 110, which helps determine student-athlete eligibility. Several families had taken legal action to fight the bylaw, but the Goedens were believed to be the first to win a court decision.
The previous bylaw language stated that student-athletes were allowed 12 consecutive semesters (six consecutive years) of eligibility beginning in seventh grade. Because he repeated seventh grade due to a learning disability, Goeden used up his eligibility and was told he wasn't able to compete his senior year, 2020-21.
“Knowing I've helped others in my situation, I feel like that outcome is as good as it would have been if it helped me.”
The Minnesota Human Rights Acts states that it is an unfair discriminatory practice "for a place of public accommodation not to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical, sensory, or mental disability of a disabled person."
The Goeden family accused the league of illegal discrimination by reason of a learning disability. They received a preliminary injunction against the league on Dec. 28, 2020, from Hennepin County District Judge Jacqueline Regis.
The league appealed, and the case was settled via mediation. As part of the settlement, the MSHSL agreed to consider changes to Bylaw 110.
The bylaw now states, in part:
"Each student is eligible for participation in League-sponsored athletic activities for four consecutive school years beginning with their initial entrance into ninth grade. This school year limitation applies regardless of whether the student participates in athletic activities.
"Students in grades 7 and 8 may participate in League-sponsored activities according to Bylaw 105.1.
"Participation begins once a seventh- or eighth-grader practices or competes in League-sponsored athletics.
"Students are permitted one school year of participation in seventh grade and one school year of participation in eighth grade for League-sponsored athletics."
In addition to the bylaw changes, the high school league agreed to pay "some attorneys fees to our office," said Justin Page, the Goedens' lawyer.
The Goedens said Deklin's learning disabilities made mathematics rationalization and reading comprehension difficult. Andrea Goeden, Deklin's mother, said the family elected to have him repeat seventh grade because feedback from the school indicated he was "at a fifth-grade level versus being ready for eighth grade."
The Goedens were unaware of Bylaw 110 at the time. They were not notified until December 2019 of Deklin's eligibility dilemma.
The preliminary injunction he received allowed Goeden to participate in track and field in spring 2021, but it came too late for him to be involved in wrestling, his primary sport.
Changing the bylaw language is a bittersweet victory for the family. Darren Goeden said he told his son, "You helped kids throughout Minnesota."
"But it stunk to have to go through all this," he said. "Why couldn't the league look at this instead of rubber-stamping a no?"
The league does not comment on threatened, pending or ongoing litigation. Executive Director Erich Martens did not respond to an interview request.
Deklin found satisfaction in causing change.
"Knowing I've helped others in my situation, I feel like that outcome is as good as it would have been if it helped me," he said.