On June 24, 2016, the Appellate Court of Illinois for the First District ruled in favor of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), holding that IHSA is not subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The decision affirmed a ruling by the Circuit Court of Cook County
in favor of the IHSA in a case brought by the Better Government Association (BGA).
In 2015, the BGA sued alleging that the IHSA’s records were subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), arguing that the IHSA was a government agency, claiming it was a subsidiary of its member public schools. On April 13, 2015, the Honorable Mary Mikva of the Circuit Court of Cook County granted a motion to dismiss the suit
, noting that the organization and supervision of interscholastic athletics and activities are not functions exclusively performed by the government, while also observing that education itself is frequently provided by purely private entities.
The BGA appealed that ruling to the First District Appellate Court of Illinois, whose ruling was set forth in an opinion authored by Appellate Justice Bertina E. Lampkin, with concurrence from Justices Jesse Reyes and Eileen O’Neill Burke.
Since the IHSA is not itself a governmental agency, the court focused its reasoning on whether it was a “subsidiary public body” subject to FOIA. In holding that it did not meet that definition, the court noted that the IHSA’s functions (organizing and overseeing interscholastic athletics and other activities) are not necessarily governmental in nature, and like the NCAA, the IHSA does not enjoy governmental powers. Instead, “Each member school runs and supervises its own teams for those sports falling within the parameters of the IHSA.” The court acknowledged that the IHSA has an existence separate from any governmental agency, and is a recognized 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity which files its own tax returns. It employs its own employees who do not participate in any government pension or other programs, and receives no government funding.
The ruling is consistent with a previous, non—binding opinion letter of the Public Access Counselor of the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
The ruling also affirmed that the IHSA’s records were not the records of a public school member which was also named in the litigation, and that the school thus had no obligation or ability to produce the IHSA’s records under FOIA.
“While the association has consistently asserted that it is a private, non-governmental entity, we hope this ruling clears up any misconceptions regarding the legal status of our organization,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. "Notwithstanding the ruling, many documents of the IHSA are available on the association’s website and via public filings with various governmental agencies. Those practices will not change."