Sports Access ("Tebow Bill") FAQs
Why can’t homeschooled students currently play on public school sports teams in Virginia?
Interscholastic (competitive) high school sports and activities in Virginia are governed by the Virginia High School League (VHSL). The VHSL writes eligibility rules and guidelines that all public high schools in the state must follow for athletics and other competitive activities, such as debate, theater, and yearbook. Schools that fail to follow these rules lose their ability to compete against other schools.
VHSL’s Handbook and Policy Manual outlines 13 student eligibility guidelines. Seven apply to students participating in all sports and other activities; the remaining six apply only to student athletes. Three of the eligibility guidelines that apply to all VHSL programs are specifically linked to attendance at public school, thus rendering homeschooled students ineligible to represent their local public school in VHSL-sponsored competitions:
- The Bona Fide Student Rule. “The student shall be a regular bona fide student in good standing of the school which he/she represents.” This rule requires that the student be “a full-time student who is in regular attendance and is carrying a schedule of subjects which, if successfully completed, will render him/her scholastically eligible for League participation the ensuing semester.”
- The Enrollment Rule. “The student shall have been regularly enrolled in the school which he/she represents not later than the fifteenth school day of the semester.” The interpretation for this rule includes the statement, “Home instruction does not constitute enrollment in a public school.”
- The Scholarship Rule. “The student shall…be enrolled in not fewer than five subjects, or their equivalent, offered for credit and which may be used for graduation and have passed five subjects” in the previous semester or school year. This rule is also known as the “Take Five, Pass Five” rule.
Local school divisions must adhere to the VHSL eligibility guidelines in order not to jeopardize their league participation. So a local high school coach or principal can’t allow a homeschooled student to play on their team, even if they wish to do so.
Does this apply to all sports teams, or just certain ones?
The VHSL regulations only apply to high school interscholastic activities, where the team from one school competes against a team from another school. This includes interscholastic school sports, plus some additional non-athletic interscholastic activities like debate and the state creative writing contest. Click here for a list of non-athletic activities regulated by VHSL.
Local school divisions may make their own policies about intrascholastic sports and activities (like a recreational wrestling club where the participants only wrestle against other students from the same school), middle school interscholastic sports and activities, and elementary school programs. Local policy varies greatly across the state; most school divisions in Virginia continue to restrict or ban homeschool access to extracurricular activities in general.
Who is most affected by the VHSL ban?
Families in less populated parts of the state, where there are few team sport opportunities outside of the public schools and not enough homeschooled athletes to form independent teams are especially adversely affected. Many community youth sports programs terminate in or around 8th grade, leaving homeschooled teen athletes with no options for competitive participation other than the public school programs.
VaHomeschoolers has heard several stories where a talented, dedicated homeschooled athlete in a less populated area of Virginia was actually recruited by the local high school coach, and in some cases even practiced with the team for many weeks, before being told that he/she could not participate because of the VHSL ban.
Why does the VHSL exclude homeschooled students?
The VHSL regulations are intended to create a level playing field, set standards for academic achievement and personal behavior, and prevent cheating and other abuses. Many VHSL members are concerned that allowing nonpublic students to play would lead to abuses of the system and cheating. They have expressed valid concerns about eligibility, registration, boundaries, discipline, and other related issues. Some members are also concerned that homeschool athletes would take the slots of otherwise worthy public school students on public high school teams. Others worry about the possible impact on “school spirit” if some of the team members were not actually enrolled at the school.
How does VaHomeschoolers respond to the VHSL’s concerns about sports access?
Homeschooled students in 29 other states are allowed to participate on some level in interscholastic sports, either via legislative requirement or local policy of some kind. By all accounts, interscholastic sports access has been a success in these states. VHSL’s counterpart organizations in these states have already created policies and regulations which successfully address all the eligibility, school boundary, liability, and registration issues involved with homeschool student participation.
VHSL has argued that homeschool sports access “creates two different and unequal standards for participation.” However, VHSL’s current eligibility rules already waive certain eligibility requirements and standards for special education students and public virtual school students. Again, VHSL’s counterparts in numerous other states have already successfully addressed these types of issues.
It is extremely unlikely that homeschool athletes would crowd out public school students for slots on public high school teams. Virginia school divisions with academic access policies routinely report that only a very few homeschooled students choose to participate in their access programs. Homeschool student athletes would be subject to the same tryout policies as public school students, and many would not make the cut for the team.
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.
Many Virginia school divisions are actually experiencing declining enrollment due to demographic shifts in the state. Bringing homeschool athletes into small, rural public school sports programs can potentially build more effective school-community relations and be beneficial to public school and homeschooling families alike.
Does homeschool sports access damage school spirit and weaken the community?
If anything, homeschool sports access can be advantageous to school-community relations by building bridges between families and schools. Many families today are simultaneously involved in both the public school and homeschool community, with some children enrolled in public school and others being homeschooled. Some homeschooled children attend classes at local public schools on a part-time basis. Homeschooling families attend public school games, theatre productions, and bazaars, participate in school fundraisers, and vote on public school bond issues. Homeschooled students often have close ties of friendship with their neighbors who attend public school, through participating together in scouting, 4-H, recreational sports programs, church groups, and other activities.
How do you respond to the observation that homeschooling families have made a choice to leave the public school system and therefore should not be allowed to participate in public school programs?
While some homeschooling families do choose to completely dissociate from the public schools, this is not the case for all homeschooling families. There are many situations where a family may have a strong connection to both worlds. Approximately half of Virginia’s school divisions now offer some form of part-time enrollment for homeschooled students who wish to take academic courses through the public schools. Many homeschooled students with special needs receive speech or occupational therapy through public school programs. A family may have one homeschooled child and another child in public school, or may be homeschooling temporarily due to a special situation.
Does sports access lead to greater regulation of homeschoolers?
Public school access programs can potentially lead to greater regulation of homeschoolers, which is why VaHomeschoolers always monitors access legislation and policies closely for potential problems or areas of concern.
However, not all access programs necessarily result in greater regulation of homeschoolers. For instance, in the 1990s, some homeschool advocates in Virginia argued that allowing part-time enrollment would lead to a loss of freedoms for all homeschooling families. Since 1997, the number of Virginia school divisions offering part-time enrollment has risen from a small handful to include approximately half of the school divisions across the state. These part-time enrollment programs have not caused greater regulation of Virginia’s homeschooling families. In addition, VaHomeschoolers is not aware of any evidence that homeschool sports and activities access (or academic access) in other states has led to increased regulation of homeschoolers since such access programs were put into place over the past two decades. Homeschool access to public school programs is becoming more and more common, and we are not seeing a concomitant increase in regulation of homeschoolers.
Why don’t homeschoolers create their own leagues?
There are a handful of organizations across Virginia that offer athletic opportunities specifically for homeschooled students. While these are excellent programs, and some homeschoolers find that they fit their needs, they are not a solution for all homeschooled students. Homeschool teams and leagues are limited in size and in geographic scope and available only to students in a few areas of Virginia; notably, they do not solve the lack of sports access for rural homeschooled students. These programs also offer a more limited array of choices when compared to public school programs. Finally, many homeschool athletic teams and leagues are faith-based, requiring players to subscribe to specific religious views and/or participate in prayer with their teammates; this is a good fit for some homeschooled students, but not for others. Local public schools offer teens a broad selection of competitive athletic programs in their own communities, with no faith component.
What has VaHomeschoolers done about sports access issues?
VHSL representatives met with VaHomeschoolers and other homeschool organizations in 1997 and in 2007 to discuss sports access. Both times, VaHomeschoolers representatives worked with homeschool, public school, private school, and VHSL representatives to craft draft regulatory language which allowed nonpublic sports participation while addressing all their concerns about eligibility, boundaries, and registration. Both times, the VHSL Executive Committee then voted against change. In 2012, VaHomeschoolers was the only organization representing the interests of homeschooled students and their families as a participant in a discussion group on this topic hosted by the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA). While the meetings presented a valuable opportunity to discuss practical and equitable measures by which qualified homeschoolers could demonstrate their eligibility to participate in interscholastic programs at their local public high schools, unfortunately, opponents to homeschooled students’ participation once again declined to consider compromise of any kind.
VaHomeschoolers lobbyists have lobbied on behalf of numerous sports access bills in the General Assembly in 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012. These bills were introduced by various legislators in response to requests from constituents.
What are the academic standards currently in place for public school athletes to be eligible to play sports in their community’s schools?
You can read the article on The News Virginian.