VaHomeschoolers Legislative Report – September 14, 2012

Sports Access Discussion Group

The second meeting of the homeschool sports access discussion group convened by the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) was held on September 6, and once again, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers was there to represent the interests of the homeschooling community. As at the initial meeting on July 31, group participants represented various organizations associated with public schools, including the Virginia High School League, the Virginia School Superintendents Association, the Virginia Secondary School Principals Association, the Virginia Parent Teacher Association, and school board members from around the state. Private schools were represented by Dick Kemper, executive director of the Virginia Independent School Activity Association.

VaHomeschoolers Contributions

The group continued its dialogue on public school interscholastic sports and activities access for homeschooled high school students. VaHomeschoolers presented information and answered questions on the multiple legal avenues available for homeschooling in Virginia and on the varied laws and policies under which many other states allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sports and activities. VaHomeschoolers’ research in this area is the most comprehensive available, and was well-received by discussion group members. Our data indicate that, at present, 30 states allow some form of sports and activities access for homeschooled students; 21 of these states have laws guiding homeschool access, while the remaining 9 allow homeschool participation under policies of some kind. Each state’s specific rules and guidelines can vary significantly, from “full” access (by which any qualified homeschooled student can try out), to more “limited” forms of access (where local policy may allow or bar homeschooled students; or where part-time public school attendance may be required).

Valuable Discussion — But No Progress Yet

While the discussion group continued to engage in meaningful dialogue about the various concerns that group members have about how homeschool sports and activities access might work, if it were implemented, it is clear that there is still significant resistance among at least some group members to collaborating to craft policies under which Virginia’s homeschooled students could participate in VHSL programs. VaHomeschoolers continues to believe that, even if the group does not end up agreeing on the basic premise that homeschoolers should be permitted to try out for VHSL athletics and activities, the collaborative dialogue process is valuable and may contribute to a better outcome in the General Assembly in 2013, when Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) plans to reintroduce his bill on the subject.

Schedule Changes

Please note that the meeting previously scheduled for September 17 has been cancelled. The discussion group will meet next onOctober 1 at 10 a.m. at VSBA headquarters, 200 Hansen Road, Charlottesville. Meetings are open to the public, and homeschooling families are welcome to attend. Brief time for public comment will be provided.

Religious Exemption in the News

A recent report on Virginia’s Religious Exemption (RE) option by a University of Virginia law professor and his students is making headlines. UVA’s Child Advocacy Clinic on September 11 released the report by Professor Andrew Block, which examines the unique nature of Virginia’s RE and questions whether children under the RE are receiving an education. Various media outlets have picked up the story, including The Washington Post.

The UVA report does not suggest any specific amendment to the RE, but does recommend that “educators and policy makers should re-examine the statute,” with particular attention to the question of whether the RE, as currently written, “violate[s] an exempted child’s fundamental right to an education” and whether school boards need specific, legislated guidance on how to process RE claims.

VaHomeschoolers’ Position

VaHomeschoolers has spoken with Professor Block about the issues and concerns raised by this report, and we have spoken with reporters covering this story. We have written our own response to the report, highlighting our concern with the fact that the public dialogue on this issue seems to be based on (and may contribute to the growth of) a fundamental distrust of the motives, decisions and lifestyles of Virginia’s homeschooling parents.

As an inclusive homeschooling organization that advocates on behalf of homeschoolers of all religious faiths — and those who practice no religion — VaHomeschoolers is confident that the vast majority of parents choosing to file under the RE, like other homeschooling parents, take their children’s educations extremely seriously and dedicate themselves to ensuring the quality of those educations. We will continue to work to safeguard the variety of legal homeschooling options available to Virginia families, including the Religious Exemption, and to keep you informed about our work.

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