National Center for Youth Law


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Dyer v. CIF Prompts Policy and Legislative Changes that Benefit Foster Youth

NCYL attorneys Leecia Welch (left) and Bryn Martyna celebrate with Dalton Dyer after his team’s win in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs.

NCYL attorneys Leecia Welch (left) and Bryn Martyna celebrate with Dalton Dyer after his team’s win in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs.

The National Center for Youth Law’s (NCYL) victory in Dyer v. CIF has prompted significant policy and legislative developments that further advance the rights of California foster youth. The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) has revised its bylaws so that foster youth can readily participate in school sports when they transfer to a new school. In addition, California Assembly Bill 81 (which will most likely become law) strengthens the rights of foster youth to have equal access to all extracurricular activities.

Last November, NCYL represented Dalton Dyer, a 17-year-old foster youth who transferred high schools due to a change in his foster care placement. The CIF, which governs interscholastic sports statewide, forced Dalton’s football team at Placer High School in Auburn to forfeit games it had already won because Dalton had not submitted certain paperwork related to his school transfer – even though non-foster students moving with their families to the school district are not required to complete such paperwork. The forfeited games would have kept Placer High School out of the playoffs.

NCYL took Dalton’s case to Alameda County Superior Court, and a judge reinstated the wins of Dalton’s team, ruling that CIF bylaws violated state law and the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.

Following the Court’s decision, the Placer High Hillmen went on to beat both Oakdale High and Dixon High, landing themselves a coveted spot in the Division championship game for the first time in 27 years. Although Placer lost in the finals, Dalton’s victories off the field will benefit foster youth in years to come.

The Court’s decision in Dalton’s case found unequivocally that the CIF’s bylaws violate the right of foster youth “to have fair and equal access to all available services, placement, care, treatment, and benefits.”

The Court Decision: Strengthening Equal Protection for Foster Youth

The Alameda County Court’s written decision in Dalton’s case found unequivocally that the CIF’s bylaws violate the right of foster youth “to have fair and equal access to all available services, placement, care, treatment, and benefits.” The Court also ruled that the bylaws violate numerous provisions of the California Education Code as amended by AB 4901, which was designed “to ensure that foster youth have the same access to educational and extracurricular opportunities as other pupils.”

Additionally, the Court found that the CIF’s bylaws violate California’s Equal Protection Clause because they treat foster youth differently than youth living with their immediate families. The Court concluded that there was no rational reason for the CIF to subject foster youth to additional procedural requirements when transferring schools. The purpose of these bylaws was to deter students from transferring schools for athletic reasons. The Court found that this concern does not apply to foster youth who change residences pursuant to a decision by a child welfare worker or juvenile court.

The Court’s ground-breaking ruling was the first written decision from a California court enforcing important requirements of AB 490.2 It was also the first written decision to find that foster youth have equal protection rights relating to extracurricular activities.

CIF Amends Its Bylaws

Although it was clear to NCYL attorneys that the CIF would need to revise its bylaws in order comply with the law, the Court’s decision stopped short of explicitly demanding such a revision. This left uncertainty as to what the CIF would do in response to the ruling.

Fortunately, the CIF did not appeal the Court’s decision and has amended its bylaws, effective July 1, to address the concerns raised in Dalton’s case. The CIF voted in May to amend CIF Bylaw 206 to say that foster youth who transfer to a new school pursuant to a decision of their social worker or a juvenile court are eligible to play sports. Foster youth are no longer required to file a hardship waiver before they can play on their new school’s teams. In short, the amended bylaw no longer discriminates against foster youth based solely on their foster status.

NCYL plans to work with foster youth advocates across the state to ensure that school administrators, athletic directors, coaches, youth, and other stakeholders are aware of the important change in CIF policy.

AB 81 Reinforces Foster Youth’s Right to Equal Access to Extracurricular Activities.

Dalton’s inspiring story attracted the attention of California legislators. Following the extensive media attention the story received, Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (R-Moorpark) authored legislation ordering the CIF to amend its bylaws. Assembly Bill 81, introduced in late December, required the CIF to revise its eligibility bylaws so that foster youth would not face barriers to participating in school sports that youth moving with their immediate families do not face. The initial language in the bill would have required the new bylaw to go into effect by Jan. 10, 2010.

Following the introduction of this law, however, the CIF announced its intention to amend Bylaw 206 in May 2009. Given this development, the language in AB 81 was changed to provide broader protections to foster youth. AB 81 now states that (1) foster youth should have the same access to interscholastic sports administered by the CIF as other youth, and (2) “a foster child who changes residences pursuant to a court order or decision of a child welfare worker shall be immediately deemed to meet all residency requirements for participation in interscholastic sports or other extracurricular activities.” This requirement extends beyond school athletics to all extracurricular activities and protects foster youth against future changes or interpretation of CIF bylaws that would run afoul of the law.

The bill has passed the California Senate and Assembly and is expected to be signed by the Governor this fall.

Dalton Dyer Continues Foster Youth Advocacy Efforts

Since winning his case, Dalton has participated in statewide and regional conferences focused on improving educational outcomes for foster youth, and was even asked to speak at a reception honoring California Senator Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento) as part of the annual California Foster Youth Education Taskforce Summit.

Dalton, also known as “D-Train,” may have initially attracted attention with his moves on the gridiron, but he has gone on to impress an entirely different group of fans with his on-going commitment to improving the lives of foster children.

1 AB 490 became effective on January 1, 2004.  The law created new duties and rights to help improve the educational opportunities of foster youth.   In particular, the law was designed to ensure that foster youth have equal access to academic resources and other school activities; to improve school stability; and to help foster youth make smoother transitions to a new school.  See, e.g., Cal. Educ. Code §§ 48850(a), 48853.5, & 49069.5.
2 As discussed above, the Court’s decision enforced some of the rights that foster youth have pursuant to AB 490, including the right to equal access to extracurricular activities.