March 29, 2022

Dyer v. California Interscholastic Federation

Filing date
Case type
Direct Representation
Case jurisdiction
State Trial Courts
Superior Court of California County of Alameda

On Nov. 24, 2008, NCYL won a major case in California, securing fair and equal treatment of foster youth who play high school sports. The victory has led to major changes affecting thousands of foster youth.

In 2008, Dalton Dyer, a 16-year-old foster youth, moved to Placer County to live with his aunt and began attending Placer High School, where he joined the football team. Partway through the season, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) found him ineligible to play because certain transfer student paperwork had not been completed — paperwork that would not have been required of a student moving with his "entire immediate family." Although the school quickly completed the requirements imposed by the CIF and Dalton was found eligible, the CIF forced his team to forfeit wins they had already earned, which kept the team out of the playoffs.

NCYL took on the case because of its commitment to advocating for the educational rights of youth in foster care, and to ensure that laws protecting those rights — such as California AB 490 — are enforced. NCYL argued that the CIF's bylaws, which force foster youth to overcome barriers that would not exist if they were not in foster care, violated California law requiring that foster children be provided with immediate and equal access to all programs that are available to other students.

Four days after taking the case, NCYL obtained a temporary restraining order on Friday, Nov. 21, to delay the playoff game scheduled for that night. On Monday, Nov. 24, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Judith Ford ruled that the CIF's bylaws were in violation of California state law, Dalton should never have been found ineligible, and the wins should not have been forfeited. The forfeits were "set aside" and Placer High was allowed to participate in the playoff game that Friday, which it won. The team went on to win in the next round of the playoffs, and competed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game on Friday, Dec. 12.  Although they lost, it was the first time Placer High played in the championship since 1981!

Since then, the CIF has changed its bylaws to say that foster youth who transfer to a new school as the result of a decision by a social worker or a juvenile court are eligible to play sports. In 2009, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 81. The law makes it clear that foster youth are to have full access to extracurricular activities.

For many foster youth, a sports team can provide an important social community in an otherwise unfamiliar school. Interscholastic athletics can also provide an incentive to continue succeeding in school. In standing up for his rights, Dalton ensured that thousands of foster youth have equal and fair access to these opportunities.