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Parents of Chicago high school athletes sue for kids’ right to compete while their teachers are on strike

Fifteen parents of Chicago high school athletes are suing to allow their children to take part in a cross-country meet while their educators are on strike.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday against the Chicago Board of Education and the Illinois High School Association, which governs interscholastic sports, asks for a temporary restraining order that would let the athletes, all students at Jones College Prep High in the Loop, compete Saturday in a regional cross-country meet.

The teachers strike, which on Friday entered its seventh school day, has kept hundreds of student athletes from competing in playoff state competitions, including many tennis and soccer teams.

A hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET Friday in Cook County Circuit Court.

The IHSA said its strike policy is in line with Illinois State Board of Education policies.

“The IHSA staff has consistently enforced that policy,” the association said in a statement to CNN. “Specific issues concerning this matter and any litigation has been referred to our legal counsel and we will refrain from further comment until they have been resolved.”

Chicago Public Schools “cannot comment on pending litigation,” Chicago Public Schools spokesman Michael Passman said.

The cross-country event is important to young athletes’ futures, said Kevin Sterling, an attorney who filed the lawsuit and the father of a son on the school’s cross-country team.

“The state tournament is where college coaches and college recruiters go to start handing out college scholarships to kids,” Sterling said.

‘They’re the collateral damage in an adult fight’

The school system has denied other athletes the right to complete during the teachers strike, the motion for the injunction says.

The handbook governing high school sports says that if a school is on strike when an IHSA state series competition begins, students from that school cannot participate in the competition, according to the complaint. But if students from a school had already participated in the beginning level of competition, they should be allowed to continue participating, the complaint states, citing the handbook.

The strike started on October 17. The prior day, the student-athletes took part in the Chicago Public League Cross Country Championship, the complaint says.

“Accordingly, the only fair and reasonable interpretation of the handbook is that the CPL Champion event constituted the ‘beginning level of competition in a given state series,'” the complaint says. So, the athletes should be allowed to take part in the regional meet, despite the strike, the complaint says.

“All we’re doing is asking for the kids to have the opportunity to play,” Sterling said. “They’re the collateral damage in an adult fight.”

Tens of thousands of teachers have taken to the city’s streets this week, demanding more support staff, higher raises, and limits to class size. Chicago Public Schools is the third biggest school district in the country.

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