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AGO 1973 No. 22 - October 30, 1973
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- AUTHORITY TO PURCHASE UNIFORMS AND EQUIPMENT FOR INTERSCHOLASTIC ATHLETIC EVENTS

When a school district, through the adoption of an appropriate resolution by its board of directors, has determined to engage in organized interscholastic athletic events with other schools as a part of its overall educational program, such district may utilize its general maintenance and operation funds to pay for appropriate uniforms and equipment to be used by its students in connection with their participation in such events, either as "on the field" participants or as band members, cheerleaders or the like.

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                                                                October 30, 1973

Honorable Elmer W. Stanley
Executive Director
Washington State School
Directors' Association
200 East Union Avenue
Olympia, Washington 98501

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1973 No. 22

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have requested our opinion on a question with respect to the authority of the board of directors of a school district to purchase uniforms and equipment to be used by its students in connection with their participation in interscholastic athletic events.  We paraphrase your question as follows:

            When a school district, through the adoption of an appropriate resolution by its board of directors, has determined to engage in organized interscholastic events with other schools as a part of its overall educational program, may such district utilize its general maintenance and operation funds to pay for appropriate uniforms and equipment to be used by its students in connection with their participation in such events, either as "on the field" participants or as band members, cheerleaders or the like?

            We answer this question in the affirmative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As we have often said before, public school districts in this state (acting through their boards of directors) have only such powers as have been granted to them by the legislature ‑ either expressly or by necessary implication.  Seattle High School Ch. No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 (1930);Juntila v. Everett School District No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P.2d 78 (1934).  Based upon this principle and what was then deemed to be an apparent lack of authority, this office, on August 2, 1938, issued an opinion to the then prosecuting attorney of Cowlitz county in which basically this same question was answered in the negative, as follows:

            "A careful examination of the statutes, and their construction by our Supreme Court, shows that no authority has been granted to the school directors for the purchase of the above enumerated athletic equipment, it not being an educational part of our school system.  It is therefore our opinion that the purchase of such articles would not be a lawful expenditure of the district. . . ."

            Your current request, in essence, calls for a review and reconsideration of this conclusion in the light, particularly, of AGLO 1973 No. 62 which was written to State Senator Robert C. Bailey on June 1, 1973 [[an Informal Opinion AIR-73562]], with regard to the applicability of our state industrial insurance act to ". . . referees, umpires, other athletic officials, ticket sellers, ticket takers, parking lot attendants and others who are employed by school districts or their student body organizations to work at interscholastic and other athletic events. . . ."

            In order to place the pertinent portion of this recent opinion in proper focus it will be necessary to key in, first, on the specific question which was there asked, together with the statute which was involved in that question.  Although most employments are now included within the mandatory coverage of the workmen's compensation system, a few, by reason of RCW 51.12.020, are not.  This statute, codifying § 7, chapter 43, Laws of 1972, Ex. Sess., provides (in material part) that:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "The following are the only employments which shall not be included within the mandatory coverage of this title:

            ". . .

            "(3) A person whose work is casual and the employment is not in the course of the trade, business, or profession of his employer."

            The question presented by Senator Bailey was whether those personnel described in his letter, being for the most part persons whose work is at least arguably "casual" within the meaning of this statute, are thereby exempt from coverage.  In advising that they are not, we explained, first, that:

            "The language of the third subsection speaks of two factors.  Both the nature of the work of the workman and the activity of the employer are involved. For this subsection to be applicable, the person's work must be casualand the employment must not be in the employer's trade, business, or profession.

            ". . .

            "Thus, even if we assume for the purposes of discussion that the work of the persons described in your question is casual, there is nevertheless coverage if the employment is 'in the course of the trade, business, or profession' of the school district by which they are employed."

            And then, addressing ourselves specifically to this latter point in connection with the status of those interscholastic athletic events in which virtually all school districts in this state are now commonly engaged, we said:

            "In our opinion it is 'in the course of the trade, business, or profession' of a school district to conduct interscholastic and other athletic events.  It is a  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] common and practically universal custom of school districts to build and maintain playing fields and gymnasiums; conduct physical education programs; purchase athletic equipment; and, to use such resources in the conduct of interscholastic and other athletic events.  These facts have been acknowledged by our state supreme court in cases involving the issue of tort liability of school districts in connection with student injuries occurring during the conduct of 'extracurricular' activities.  See, for example, the comments of Judge Hill in his special concurrence inSherwood v. Moxee, 58 Wn.2d 351, 363 P.2d 138 (1961), wherein he stated at page 360:

            "'The attempt of the respondent school district to limit the scope of its authority to matters within the curricular activities, and happenings on the school premises is not realistic.  That schools do employ athletic coaches, band directors, even debate coaches, and do exercise supervision and control over numerous extra-curricular activities is common knowledge.  The justification is their educational and cultural value. . . ."

            Viewed objectively, this conclusion is totally incompatible with any continuing notion that those school districts which are engaged in such interscholastic athletic programs nevertheless lack the requisite legal authority to use their maintenance and operation funds to purchase the requisite uniforms and equipment to be used by students involved therein.  Such districts either have both the authority to engage in such events and to provide the uniforms and equipment which such participation requires ‑ or they haveneither of these powers.  For the reasons set forth in AGLO 1973 No. 62, supra, we think that they have both ‑ and, accordingly, we answer your question (as above paraphrased) in the affirmative.  Correspondingly, our previous opinion of August 2, 1938, to the Cowlitz  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] county prosecuting attorney, supra, is hereby overruled.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,


SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

 

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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