VaHomeschoolers is the only statewide homeschooling organization lobbying in support of HB131 and SB612 in 2016.. We have supported legislative and policy efforts aimed at creating homeschool sports access for nearly two decades. Our positions on this and all other issues are determined by our members via our annual survey.
- Local school boards would set their own policy. These bills specifically state that the participation of homeschooled students “shall be subject to all policies governing such participation that the local school board may establish,” in addition to the eligibility requirements of the Virginia High School League (VHSL). If these bills were to become law, VHSL would have to create compatible eligibility requirements for homeschooled students, but no coach, athletic director, principal, high school or school board would be required to allow homeschoolers to participate.
- Academic eligibility requirements are in place. Under these bills, homeschooled students must demonstrate two consecutive years of appropriate 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. These bills contain multiple provisions to ensure that homeschooled student will meet the same eligibility requirements as public school students — the only exception being full-time attendance at public school.
- Dropouts and unfair recruiting are already ruled out. Under HB131 and SB612 a student must have homeschooled and demonstrated academic eligibility for a minimum of two consecutive years (including the two years immediately prior to seeking participation) 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. These bills include a provision whereby local schools will be able to recover any additional costs through fees paid by homeschooled students. Costs for “additional insurance, uniforms, or equipment” are specifically listed.
- 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 VHSL. 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 especially 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.
- Impact on public school programs would be minimal. There are fewer than 6,000 homeschooled students of high school age in Virginia (1.5% of the approximately 400,000 students enrolled in Virginia’s public high schools). On average, this means that there are approximately 19 homeschooled students in the attendance zone for each of VHSL’s 311 member public high schools. Of those 19, most would not be interested in even trying 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.
- 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 Academic 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 address nearly all of those requirements, such as age, amateur status, parental consent, transfer status, physical examinations and immunizations, 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 are linked specifically to public school attendance. VHSL’s Scholarship Rule, known as “Take 5, Pass 5,” has been the topic of particular debate. 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. Clearly, homeschooled students cannot meet this requirement – but this does not mean they cannot demonstrate their academic eligibility.
“Apples and Oranges” or Fruit Salad?
Opponents to homeschool sports and activities access have argued that “apples and oranges” are not fair when it comes to Take 5, Pass 5 (that is, not requiring homeschooled students to enroll in 5 classes at their public schools). The fact is, the current situation is not actually apples OR oranges — it’s more like fruit salad. Students 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 a professional 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. This is a reasonable approach that is guided by law already in place.
It’s Time, Virginia!
HB131 and SB612 could make an enormous difference to Virginia’s homeschooling students. They represent a sensible approach that allows local school boards to do what works for their communities. They do not impose financial or administrative burdens on school divisions, since they rely on existing paperwork requirements. Public school sports and activities access for homeschooled students is in place in 29 states, under a variety of laws and policies — and it is working just fine. It can work in Virginia, too.