Judge denies high school golfers’ request to play for now, sets hearing in lawsuit over SMSD and Blue Valley decisions to suspend fall sports

Four SM East golfers are among the students suing SMSD and Blue Valley Schools over the decisions to suspend fall sports. File photo. 

A Johnson County judge has denied five high school girl golfers’ request for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed them to begin competing immediately this fall.

The girls and their families sued the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley School Districts earlier this week over the districts’ decisions to suspend all fall sports and activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In denying the girls’ request Friday, Judge Robert Wonnell scheduled a full-day hearing for Friday, Sept. 11, to consider a preliminary injunction on the matter.

The golfers’ lead attorney John Duggan could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

In documents filed in Johnson County District Court Wednesday, the five girls — four members of the SM East team and one member of the Blue Valley West team — argue that golf is the “ultimate social distancing sport,” and that the districts’ decisions to suspend all extracurricular activities last month without considering “inherent safety differences” between sports was “unnecessarily broad.”

The only golfers named in court filings are twin sisters Hope and Hanna Robinett, both 18 years old and going into their senior years at SM East. The other three are suing through their parents because they are minors: James and Julie Hepler; Billy Roman; and Todd Misemer.

Friday’s hearing was conducted remotely through conference call software used by Johnson County District Court. The hearing on Sept. 11 is also scheduled to be conducted remotely, as is a pre-hearing conference call scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 9.

The golfers argue their due process rights and “freedom to expressive association” are being violated by the decision to postpone fall sports and activities in Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley. They also argue that Shawnee Mission Superintendent Mike Fulton “acted without policymaking authority” when he announced Aug. 18 that all students in Shawnee Mission would begin the academic year on Sept. 8 learning remotely and that all extracurricular activities, including golf, would be suspended indefinitely starting Aug. 21.

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education never voted to approve the county’s “gating criteria” for school reopening after they were released July 28. A day earlier, the board had approved a resolution affirming the district’s reopening plan, which at that point, was not finalized.

Still, county health officials say the county remains in the throes of a full-blown pandemic. Johnson County is still logging more than 110 new cases of COVID-19 per day and has been tracking more than 800 new infections per week over the past month-and-a-half, according to data collected by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

Shawnee Mission is the only public school district in the county that plans to start classes next week with all of its students learning remotely.

County health director Sanmi Areola earlier this week during a virtual town hall hosted by Shawnee Mission Schools expressed concern that new cases could spike in about two weeks, following this coming weekend’s Labor Day holiday.

He encouraged families and students in Johnson County to avoid large gatherings and parties for the long holiday weekend, behavior he said happened earlier this summer for Memorial Day and for some graduation parties, contributing to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.

“Parents who are demanding that schools reopen, that tell me athletics need to start,” he said, “this is a chance for you to help contain community spread.”