by Amy Wilson, VaHomeschoolers Director of Government Affairs
Sports Access Subcommittee Votes to “Pass By Indefinitely” HB 2395
On Tuesday, November 22, 2011, members of the Virginia House Education Committee’s Special Subcommittee met for the third time to investigate options for implementing sports access for homeschooled students, as proposed in H.B. 2395. Although The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers) and Del. Robert Bell (R-Charlottesville), the bill’s patron, expected the subcommittee to develop a recommendation to send back to the full House Education Committee on how best to implement homeschool sports access, instead, the subcommittee members voted 4-to-1 to “pass by indefinitely” the bill. This means that they have voted to take no action and make no specific recommendation regarding homeschool sports access at this time.
VaHomeschoolers and homeschooling families who favor homeschool sports access are deeply disappointed by this development. We had hoped that the subcommittee’s work over the course of the fall would result in the development of compromise language that could be supported by the homeschooling community as well as by the Virginia High School League (VHSL), and which, in turn, could bolster efforts to pass a sports access bill into law during the upcoming 2012 legislative session. However, Del. Bell assured VaHomeschoolers and the families in attendance at the hearing that he plans to continue his efforts on this issue, and that he sees homeschool sports access as a goal that will eventually be achieved.
Prior to voting, the subcommittee members heard testimony in favor of and against homeschool sports access. Speaking in favor were Del. Bell and VaHomeschoolers President, Parrish Mort.
Del. Bell emphasized to the subcommittee members, as he has at past hearings, that families choose home education for a wide variety of reasons and that Virginia’s Home Instruction statute already recognizes home education as a valid and effective educational approach. He argued that there should not be “a higher standard to play ball than [there is] to educate your kids.”
Representing VaHomeschoolers, Parrish Mort suggested that a reasonable system for homeschooled students to demonstrate academic eligibility could include documentation of being in good standing with the home instruction statute, a parental affidavit indicating that a student is taking and passing at least five academic courses, and, if compromise is needed, evidence of having scored at or above the fourth stanine on a nationally-normed achievement test that includes at least language arts, mathematics, science and social studies (such as the Stanford 10, the Iowa or the CAT Complete Battery).
VHSL Executive Director Ken Tilley once again spoke in opposition to homeschool sports access, saying, “You just can’t have it both ways.” Also speaking in opposition were representatives of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, the Virginia Parent Teacher Association, and a public high school athletic director.
Opponents to homeschool sports access repeatedly stated, as they have in the past, that they favored “fairness” and “a level playing field” in terms of the academic and other eligibility requirements for homeschooled and public school students, and that they had concerns about the details of how homeschool sports access might be administered at the local level. Another issue that was raised was a question about whether public school liability insurance policies could cover homeschool students.
Del. Bell had another opportunity to address the subcommittee prior to their vote, during which time he argued that the insurance question is “a red herring,” rather than a real barrier to homeschool sports access. Other states that already allow homeschool sports access clearly must have a system in place to cover insurance concerns, Bell stated, and Virginia could implement a similar plan.
Mr. Tilley also spoke again before the vote was taken, and reiterated that VHSL’s most significant areas of concern are demonstrating academic eligibility of homeschooled students, allowing school divisions to have a role in establishing access policies at the local level, and general concerns with having students participate in public school sports with “no enrollment whatsoever” in public school academics.
The members of the subcommittee, Del. Bell, VaHomeschoolers, and others in the hearing room were all surprised when Del. Robert Tata (R-Virginia Beach), chair of the House Education Committee and of the Special Subcommittee, called for a vote on the original language of HB 2395, rather than on a modified version to be recommended to the full Education Committee. After some confusion and discussion regarding what was actually being voted on, Del. Thomas Rust (R-Fairfax and Loudoun) made a motion that the bill be passed by indefinitely. That motion was seconded by Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Henrico). Delegates Tata, Rust, McClellan and David Bulova (D-Fairfax) all voted in favor of the motion, and Del. Thomas Greason (R-Leesburg) voted in opposition.
After the vote, Del. Bell expressed to the subcommittee his dismay that they had not developed a working recommendation for the full committee, but instead had set the bill aside. Del. McClellan acknowledged her appreciation of the efforts that VaHomeschoolers has made to craft a workable compromise but explained that she felt that there were many issues yet to be resolved, including the insurance question. Del. Rust said that he had remaining concerns about how homeschoolers could meet the requirements of VHSL’s “Take Five, Pass Five” scholastic eligibility requirement, about how any disciplinary issues involving homeschooled students could be worked out by coaches and administrators at the local level, and about how homeschooled and public school students could undergo “comparable standardized testing.”
Del. Bulova commented that while he was “not prepared to endorse” any of the specific options discussed by the subcommittee, he felt that a successful homeschool sports access bill is “in the realm of possibility” and that the subcommittee’s work did “provide potential guidance” on how Del. Bell can most effectively move forward in the upcoming legislative session. Del. Greason, who opposed the motion to pass by the bill indefinitely, and who is a strong supporter of homeschool sports access, said that on the basis of fairness to all students, he is in favor of legislation that would mandate sports access for homeschooled students in good standing and hopes to see this bill re-introduced in 2012.
After the hearing concluded, Del. Bell spoke with members of the homeschooling community about what the vote means and about where he plans to go from here. About two dozen homeschool parents and student-athletes were in attendance, some having driven long distances to be present, including a van of half a dozen young men from the Tidewater area.
Despite their disappointment with the conclusion of this fall’s series of subcommittee hearings, homeschoolers were encouraged by Del. Bell’s suggestions of the best ways to advocate for homeschool sports access with their legislators. (VaHomeschoolers shares these tips in a companion blog post here: Homeschool Sports Access: Insider Tips on Influencing Your Legislator.)
Del. Bell expressed his disappointment that the special subcommittee concluded with a pro-forma vote rather than a working session to “hammer out the details” to create a stronger homeschool sports access bill. He explained that this topic is important to him on a personal level, because his younger brother, who was homeschooled, was forced to attend public high school in order to continue his success as a competitive swimmer; while his brother succeeded athletically and academically in high school, the public school environment was not right for him or his family.
Del. Bell plans to re-introduce a homeschool sports access bill for the 2012 legislative session, which begins in January. He is optimistic that despite the lack of progress made in the special subcommittee, he expects the bill to have a good chance of success in 2012. VaHomeschoolers will continue to work with Del. Bell and to support homeschool sports access, as our members have directed us via our annual survey. If you have questions or comments about this hearing, or about homeschool sports access, please , at contact VaHomeschoolers Director of Government Affairs, Amy Wilson.
The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers is a non-profit public charity with 501(c)(3) status; your donation is tax-deductible to the extent provided by law. A financial statement is available from the Virginia Division of Consumer Affairs upon request.