The Minnesota State High School League has approved a temporary change to its eligibility bylaws, allowing student-athletes who transferred schools in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions last year, to transfer back to their "school of origin" with no loss of eligibility.
The change, approved Wednesday by the executive committee of the MSHSL Board of Directors, reinstates the athletics eligibility of many who transferred in response to restrictions put in place as a result of the pandemic.
"The Board of Directors and the League have been aware of this unique situation and acknowledge the impact it has had on the educational choices and co-curricular opportunities for our students," board president Tom Jerome said in a news release, adding that board members have spent a great deal of time seeking "ways to make more students eligible when they were faced with making a choice based on the effects of the pandemic."
The change to league Bylaw 111, which governs transfers and residence, is temporary. To regain eligibility, student-athletes must return to their original school by Sept. 10.
The news was welcomed by Craig and Anna Butler of St. Paul and their daughter Danielle, a junior.
When the St. Paul School District adopted a distance-learning model in response to the pandemic last fall, the Butlers, like many parents, chose to send their daughter, who attended Open World Learning Community (OWL), which co-opts with Humboldt, to a different school in hopes maintaining her in-person education. They did so with the intent of returning when students returned to school.
However, that meant two transfers in short period of time, leading them to be in violation of established MSHSL rules.
"Both my husband and I are teachers and we felt it made no sense for our daughter to stay home by herself. We felt it was a better choice academically for her to continue with in-person learning," said Anna Butler, whose daughter Danielle, then a sophomore, transferred to New Life Academy, where her father, Craig, teaches chemistry.
But when Danielle went back to OWL in December, she was told that she wouldn't be eligible for varsity competition for one year.
They appealed twice, once in January and again in April, and were denied both times.
"One e-mail from the MSHSL was forwarded to us and it said that they had received over 50 appeals from people in Danielle's situation and the league had applied the same rules to every one," Anna Butler said. "We weren't mad. They're just applying the rule as it's written. We were saddened for our daughter. She plays just to be with her friends."
Danielle was resigned to missing another season of varsity volleyball until the MSHSL's temporary rule change was announced. She also plays basketball and softball.
"We're just super thankful to the athletic directors at New Life and Humboldt, who were so supportive, and thankful to the league, for recognizing the uniqueness of the situation," Anna Butler said. "Danielle was facing the fact that she would have missed two varsity seasons. Now, hopefully, she gets to show up on Monday at practice. She's really thankful she gets the chance to play with her friends again."
The MSHSL's first official day of practice for fall sports is Monday.