Education Commissioner Reverses NJSIAA Vote to Separate Publics and Non-Publics in Football and Wrestling
The ongoing search for balance among public and non-public schools in New Jersey took another turn on Monday when New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe rejected a vote by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association member schools to separate the public and non-public programs in wrestling and football.
Hesse sent his verdict to the NJSIAA on Monday, explaining his decisions to veto the Dec. 7 vote for complete separation of public and non-public schools for football and the creation of four additional non-public district tournaments that feed into one exclusively non-public region tournament for wrestling.
Hespe cited a 2009 decision by then-commisoner Lucille Davy that struck down a similar proposal for wrestling, stating that the "unconditional separation of public school wrestling programs from non-public wrestling programs at the district and regional levels is inconsistent with the principles articulated by the Commissioner - and upheld in courts - in previous legal decisions concerning the administration of school athletics in New Jersey".
Hespe also stated the NJSIAA's vote to change "does not clearly demonstrate an unfair competitive disadvantage for public school participants in the individual state wrestling tournament" and "fails to address how the proposal maintains equal athletic opportunity for non-public school students and will be implemented in a way to not disadvantage these non-public students".
The main argument for complete separation in football stems from complaints from NJSIAA member schools - almost exclusively in North Jersey - that certain non-public schools "have used their expansive attendance zones and fundraising ability to create elite programs that make them uncompetitive with virtually all public schools in their region".
Hespe countered that the NJSIAA's proposal "does not ensure that all other non-public schools will be able to continue to compete with appropriately matched public schools in their region" and "since the ballet proposal goes beyond league realignment and essentially requires mutual consent for public and non-public competition, this proposal will take away the NJSIAA's ability to develop full schedules for non-elite non-public schools that are appropriately matched with public schools in their region".