NJ student who threatened to ‘shoot up’ high school loses fight to play ball
NEW PROVIDENCE — A special-needs student who was forced to repeat the 12th grade after his threats to shoot up New Providence High School got him expelled had no right to play baseball as a fifth-year senior, the state commissioner of education ruled this month.
The New Providence student had argued that the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association — the independent nonprofit entity that regulates high school athletics — discriminated against him based on his disability when the Eligibility Appeals Committee denied his waiver of the “eight semester rule.”
Christopher Lombardi had played baseball for the high school team beginning freshman year in 2012-13 until he was kicked out in the middle of his senior year in 2015-16. School officials said he took a selfie with a firearm and told a student that he was going “to shoot up the school,” telling the student to wear red so that Lombardi would be able to avoid shooting him, according to a summary of the case in the commissioner’s decision.
Because of the “threatening” incidents, Lombardi was placed on home instruction and banned from school grounds.
In June 2016, the district decided to have him repeat the 12th grade at a private school and classified him as a special needs student based on an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnosis and a learning disability. Lombardi had been classified as special needs for his freshman and sophomore years, but was “declassified” his junior year, the commissioner’s decision notes.
Lombardi, who was an aspiring college athlete, tried to play baseball for the New Providence team during his senior year because the private school he attended did not have its own team.
He sought a waiver from the NJSIAA rules that bar so-called “red shirt” or 5th year seniors. The waiver was denied in April.
According to the agency’s handbook, the rule is “aimed at preventing athletically gifted pupils who are not meeting academic standards from replacing other students who are maintaining their academic standards but who might not have the same athletic prowess.”
The rule, however, can be waived for a student in “circumstances beyond his or her control.”
Lombardi’s attorney argued that his learning disability and difficulty in controlling his behavior was such a circumstance.
But the NJSIAA determined that it was his disciplinary issues, not his disabilities, that got him kicked out of school in the first place.
Although the season is over, Lombardi wanted the education commissioner to rule that the NJSIAA discriminated by discounting his behavioral or psychological disabilities.
But the commissioner agreed with the NJSIAA committee that it was Lombardi’s “multiple threatening behaviors” that got him expelled and therefore the situation was not beyond his control.
Lombardi’s online recruiting profile says he has “always had to be more diligent with a larger work ethic."
“Growing up afflicted with a learning disability, it has afforded me the opportunity to seek and achieve higher goals, set higher standards and aggressively climb hurdles that aren’t experienced by my peers.”
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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