VaHomeschoolers is the only statewide homeschooling organization lobbying in support of HB 947. Our all-volunteer Government Affairs team has been working closely with Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) to support this bill, as we have supported legislation on this topic since it was first introduced in 1995. Our legislative positions on homeschool sports access and all other issues are determined by our members via our annual survey.
- HB 947 is not a mandate on local school divisions. The bill would prohibit Virginia’s public school divisions from joining an organization (the Virginia High School League) that bans students from participation in interscholastic athletics and other programs solely on the basis of their homeschooling status. If the bill were to become law, the practical effect would be to require VHSL to create compatible eligibility requirements for homeschooled students, but no coach, athletic director, principal, high school or school division would be required to allow homeschoolers to participate; localities could create policies that go beyond what VHSL allows that are appropriate for their schools and communities. The bill increases local public control, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of a state-wide, private organization.
- Impact on public school programs would be minimal: There are only 6,000 homeschooled students of high school age in Virginia, a figure that is just 1.5% of the 400,000 students enrolled in public high schools. Moreover, there are 311 public high schools served by the Virginia High School League; this means that, on average, approximately 19 homeschooled students are in the attendance zone for each high school in Virginia. Of those 19, most would likely not try out for public school athletics. Of those who do try out, not all would have the skills to make the team. And of those who DO make the team, not all will be trying out for the same sport.
- Academic eligibility requirements are in place: Under this bill, homeschooled students must demonstrate two full years of academic progress in accordance with §22.1-254.1, which requires annual testing or professional evaluation approved by the division superintendent. Their public school peers are required to demonstrate academic performance only in the previous semester.
- Additional eligibility requirements are addressed: The bill contains multiple provisions to ensure that homeschooled student will meet the same eligibility requirements as public school students — other than those requirements that rest on the assumption that students are enrolled in public school classes.
- Dropouts and unfair recruiting are already ruled out: Under HB 947, a student must have homeschooled and demonstrated academic eligibility for a minimum of two years before being eligible to participate. A student could only try out at the school in his local attendance zone.
- Coaches ultimately are in charge: Individual coaches and program directors would remain the ultimate decision-makers in selecting those students that will participate on their teams and in their programs.
- Costs are covered: The bill includes a provision whereby local schools will be able to recover any additional costs through fees paid by homeschooled students.
- Homeschooled students are already on public school teams: In many school divisions, homeschooled students are already playing at the middle school level and on high school “club” sports not governed by the Virginia High School League. These voluntary programs are working well for homeschoolers, coaches, principals and public school teammates.
- Homeschooled students are already in public school classrooms: Under Virginia law, school boards may allow homeschooled students to enroll in academic classes on a part-time basis, and reimbursement of up to 50% of ADM is provided for these students. Just over half of all school divisions in Virginia allow part-time enrollment (on a space-available basis, giving preference to full-time public school students), and these programs are working well. Under VHSL rules, school boards currently do NOT have the authority to allow students who are enrolled on a part-time basis to participate in interscholastic athletics and other programs.
- Students in Virginia’s rural communities need this opportunity: In rural areas, there are not enough homeschoolers to form separate leagues for multiple sports. Public school programs are the only option available in many Virginia communities.
- Other students from outside the high schools are already participating: Virtual and charter school students who don’t attend classes in their local public school building are eligible under VHSL rules, and so are foreign exchange students. Homeschooled students who are part of the community should have the opportunity as well.
- Virginia’s students are all part of the same community: Homeschooled students and their public school peers already play together in community athletic programs as youngsters, participate in the same scouting groups with one another, and play together in Virginia’s neighborhoods. All children benefit from this positive interaction, and allowing homeschooled students to try out for public school interscholastic programs would create an even greater positive influence.
- It’s working in many other states: 29 states currently have statutes or voluntary policies that allow some form of homeschool sports and activities access.
Homeschooled students are only asking for the chance to try out for these programs;
they are not asking for special treatment.
Homeschoolers and VHSL Eligibility
Much of the debate on this issue has focused on the question of whether homeschooled students can meet the eligibility requirements of the Virginia High School League. Del. Bell’s bill specifically addresses a number of those requirements, such as age, amateur status, parental consent, transfer status, physical examinations, disciplinary requirements, and residence in the local school attendance zone. Other VHSL eligibility requirements can also be met by homeschooled students, such as those addressing college team participation, independent team participation and the student’s grade level.
The requirements that remain all rest on the assumption — or state outright — that students must attend classes at their local public school. VHSL’s Scholarship Rule, known as “Take 5, Pass 5,” has been the topic of particular debate. VHSL is correct in pointing out that homeschoolers don’t meet the requirements of Take 5 Pass 5, because this rule requires that students be enrolled at their local public schools in at least five subjects offered for credit which may be used toward graduation, and that they passed five such classes in the previous semester.
“Apples and Oranges” or Fruit Salad?
Opponents to this bill have argued that “apples and oranges” (that is, not requiring homeschooled students to enroll in 5 classes at their public schools) are not fair when it comes to Take 5, Pass 5. The fact is, the current situation is not actually apples OR oranges — it’s more like fruit salad. Athletes who attend Virginia’s public schools have many choices available to them in deciding what courses to take to meet the “Take 5, Pass 5” rule. They can enroll in five college-prep and advanced placement courses. Or they could enroll in standard courses or technical classes — and they can also choose from a broad variety of electives to meet the requirement. Homeschooled students, who typically take their academics seriously and who also study an array of elective courses, are just one more variation along an already broad continuum.
Homeschool Academic Accountability Is Already in Law
Virginia law recognizes the validity and acceptability of home instruction by parents. Our home instruction statute includes a mechanism to ensure that homeschooled students demonstrate appropriate academic progress annually, through standardized achievement testing or an evaluation approved by the division superintendent. Under this bill, homeschooled students who want to try out for their public high school’s teams and other programs would be required to demonstrate their academic progress for two consecutive years. It is true that this is not identical to the requirements of Take 5, Pass 5, under which public school students would have to demonstrate that they passed 5 classes in the previous semester. But it is a reasonable approach and it is guided by law already in place.
It’s Time, Virginia!
HB 947 could make an enormous difference to Virginia’s homeschooling students. It represents a reasonable approach that allows local schools to do what works for their communities. It does not impose financial or administrative burdens on school divisions. Public school sports and activities access for homeschooled students is in place in 28 states, under a variety of laws and policies — and it is working just fine. It can work in Virginia, too.
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