Thursday, September 22, 2011

Should home schoolers have access to high school sports?

An ongoing debate throughout the years has been Virginia's refusal to allow home schooled students to participate in public school sports even though 20 states allow it in one capacity or another: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.

Home schooled students have proven over the years that they can keep up with their public school peers academically. Testimony to that is the number of home schoolers who have been spelling bee winners and finalists, who have regularly outscored public school students on SAT and ACT tests, who have received higher education scholarships, and who have scored in research, work, academia, and beyond.

Many of those home school families have asked throughout the years to be included in sports. They feel it should be allowed since home school parents pay the same school taxes as everyone else but have to pay extra for their children's education, receiving no benefit from school tax dollars. For years, Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20th House District) championed school choice and tax credits for home schoolers.

Delegate Rob Bell (R - 58th House District) in neighboring Albemarle County, whose parents were pioneers of the home schooling movement in Virginia, has sponsoring HB 2395 in the 2011 General Assembly session asking that home schoolers be allowed to participate in public school sports.

Here is a summary from Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) of the September 6, 2011, hearing on this issue:
The committee first heard a summary of the report by Legislative Services (LIS) staff attorney Jessica Eades. She presented the following information from her study of other state laws and regulations regarding homeschool access to public school sports.

Access States
The LIS study found that 20 states allowed homeschool access to interscholastic sports: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.

Requirements vary from state to state, but generally require one or more of the following provisions:
  • Some states require part-time enrollment and others require only a written notice to participate.
  • Homeschool students must meet the same requirements as public school students.
  • Generally, homeschool students must provide proof of academic progress.
  • One state charges homeschool students up to 150% of the cost of participation, plus any increase in insurance premiums.
  • States vary on the length of time a student must be homeschooled before participating.
Four additional states--Louisiana, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee--also allow access under certain conditions such as school board approval or principal approval, or partial enrollment in membership schools at the member school's discretion.

Non-access States
Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma have no statutes banning homeschool participation in public school sports, but these five states have case law upholding a ban on access.

Virginia, like the remaining 20 states, does not have a statute banning participation, but most of these states have independent or private organizations overseeing public school sports. These private organizations prohibit homeschool participation according to their rules and policies.

Constitutional Challenges
LIS reported there have been no successful court challenges by individual homeschoolers. The courts have routinely held that schools are not acting unreasonably by requiring full-time attendance and setting eligibility requirements for participation.

Delegate Rob Bell presented key points in support of his bill. He reminded the committee that in rural areas, high school sports provide the "only game in town"--there are no private club sports. Athletic events are community events that should be open to all students who want to participate. "I am only asking for homeschoolers to be able to 'try-out,'" said Bell. "We are not asking for guaranteed participation." Bell told the committee that he expects to see sports access pass in the future. "If we're going to do it one year, why wait? Every year we wait, there is an 18-year-old who didn't get to play."

Delegate Bell reminded the committee that homeschoolers had attempted for many years to work with the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to reach an agreeable solution, but had failed to come to any agreement or compromise.

Out of more than a hundred supporters, eight parents and students were allowed to testify before the committee in support of HB 2395. Supporters included the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers and homeschoolers who were businessmen and community leaders, as well as a coach and a homeschool mom. They all gave concise, well-thought-out testimony. The homeschool teen athletes were poised and articulate in their appeal for access.

Track-and-field coach Marcia Rose asked the delegates to find a way to make this work for ALL students who were interested in playing. Rose and her husband, a coach at I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, recognized the importance of physical activity and team sports in the development of youth.

Todd Vaner Pol asked the committee to do what is best for all children. He wants his children to have a connection to the local community. As a businessman, he sponsors several local sports teams and sees how public school teams could benefit from homeschoolers joining their teams. Another parent from southwest Virginia confirmed that her rural school district has a small school-age population and has a difficult time filling their team rosters. They would welcome homeschoolers.

Homeschool student athlete Katie Rygol--who participates on a girls travel soccer league in Northern Virginia--said there was less competition and less practice time on a homeschool team because her coaches are parents with full-time jobs. She sees there are better opportunities for athletes from big-name schools. Access would offer equal opportunity for all students.

Kenny Hood's son competes in a Powhatan wrestling club with many club members who are also on the public high school wrestling team. The team would welcome his son if he were allowed to play. Hood also pointed out that of all the states that allow access, none of these states have repealed their access laws because they had problems with homeschoolers.

Ken Tilley of the Virginia High School League (VHSL), the private organization that regulates interscholastic activities and makes the rules and policy for 27 high school sports programs and 8 academic programs, opposed access for homeschoolers. Tilley said VHSL represents 313 member high schools throughout Virginia.

Tilley said that he is not anti-homeschool, and he supports equal opportunity, but in this situation, "there is no common ground." He emphasized that the academic requirements are major. Public school students must take SOL tests and homeschoolers are required to take standardized achievement tests. Because these tests are not the same, in his opinion, they cannot be used to show the academic progress needed. In addition, students involved in sports must be enrolled full time and prove that they have taken and passed five courses in order to compete in interscholastic activities. Homeschoolers could not meet this standard.

Representatives of the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents also opposed the bill. They argued that because homeschoolers did not have to fulfill the same academic requirements, it would be unfair for public school students to be held to a higher standard.

In an attempt to understand the differences between homeschool and public school academic requirements, legislators asked for clarification about Standards of Learning testing. They wanted to know if homeschoolers also took the SOLs, and if not, what academic accountability methods were used for homeschoolers. A question was then raised by a committee member concerning the graduation requirements for homeschoolers compared to the requirements for public school students. As a result, Chairman Tata asked the Department of Education to present a comparison chart for the committee's review. The education subcommittee did not take a vote on the bill or propose amendments.

Another meeting will be scheduled in October and possibly a final meeting in November. There may be another opportunity for homeschool parents and students to express their opinion about this legislation. If you are interested in future updates and meeting notifications, please e-mail

HEAV's Position
Home Educators Association of Virginia is neutral on sports access legislation. HEAV's purpose is to protect and strengthen home education. Although we understand the interest some parents have in providing athletic opportunities for their children, it is not HEAV's purpose to actively support a return to public schools.

During the past 10 years, HEAV has worked privately with the Virginia High School League in an attempt to come to an equitable agreement rather than risk bringing a discussion of home education before the Virginia legislature. During this time, we have carefully tracked several sports access bills introduced by legislators who were responding to requests from homeschooling parents in their districts.

We will continue to closely monitor access legislation by attending committee meetings and sharing developments with homeschooling families. We have expressed our cautions and concerns with Delegate Bell, who is a longtime friend of homeschoolers. If we see any legislative discussion or movement toward increased regulations for homeschoolers in general, we will immediately ask that the bill be withdrawn.

HEAV will continue to work with our lawmakers and the Department of Education to maintain your freedom to homeschool in the least restrictive manner possible.
Home Educators Association of Virginia

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