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Critics of North Carolina school athletics governing body pass bill ordering more oversight



RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina legislators have ordered additional oversight of the chief nonprofit body that manages high school sports, finalizing legislation Friday that seeks to leave more rule-making in the hands of state education leaders.

In separate House and Senate votes, the General Assembly passed a bill that for months had focused solely on changes to state insurance laws. But the final measure negotiated by Republicans and unveiled Thursday tacked on more than a dozen pages addressing high school athletics that largely came from a separate bill that passed the Senate earlier this year.

A 2021 law that sought more rigorous government supervision of interscholastic sports among public schools led the State Board of Education to enter a memorandum of understanding with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, which began in 1913.

That agreement laid out how the association, which serves more than 400 schools, would administer and enforce requirements for high school sports on behalf of the board. Republican lawmakers who say the association isn’t holding up its side of the bargain — harming students and their families — said the group needs to be reined in further.

The new language “increases accountability and transparency for a private organization tasked with administering our children’s athletic experiences,” Sen. Vicki Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican, said in a news release after Friday’s votes in both chambers. The bill was sent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk for consideration.

The approved bill makes clear with the beginning of the next school year that standards on student participation, health and safety rules and student and school appeals must be set by the board, not the association. The association also would have to comply with public record disclosures similar to those that government agencies must follow.

And the elected state superintendent of public instruction — currently Republican Catherine Truitt — would enter into the memorandum of understanding, not the board, of which the governor’s appointees hold a majority.

During House floor debate early Friday shortly after midnight, bill opponents argued its supporters were seeking to severely weaken the association because of animosity toward NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker and for adverse student eligibility outcomes.

“I don’t think that’s a reason to threaten the (association), but I can certainly see it being nuked in the very near future,” said Rep. Amos Quick, a Guilford County Democrat.

In a news release Friday, the NCHSAA said it has acted in good faith with the State Board of Education since entering the agreement.

“This was a blindside tackle, and I am sorely disappointed in the actions of our state legislators,” Tucker said, adding that the bill would silence the voices of its member schools should it become law.

For years, NCHSAA critics complained about what they called the group’s oversized control over member schools, eligibility decisions and monetary penalties, even as the association has flush coffers.

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