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Lawmakers again debate allowing home-schooled students to play public school sports

Baseball field and bleachers
Baseball field and bleachers(Reid Murphy | VCU Capital News Service)
Published: Feb. 25, 2022 at 3:54 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. -- The state Senate could consider a bill to allow school boards to decide if home-schooled students in Virginia can join public school sports teams.

Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, introduced House Bill 511, which advanced on a narrow 50-49 vote. Two Republicans voted against the measure and one Democrat did not vote. The legislation is also known as the “Tebow bill” for former NFL star Tim Tebow, who was home-schooled in Florida but played public school football.

March said the bill would not be a statewide mandate, but instead allow local school boards to establish a policy that would permit home-schooled students to participate in their programs.

The bill would allow fees to be charged to students to cover participation costs, as well as the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, equipment and facility upkeep and maintenance.

“This could be a way for the public schools to recoup some of the money and make some money to fund their programs,” March said. “I really am hoping if it could pass, one of my local schools in Floyd County could do the pilot program to figure out what works best, and then we can get other schools to tag along.”

Thirty-five other states passed similar legislation, according to the Texas Home School Coalition. Virginia approved a similar measure in 2017, which was vetoed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin supports the bill during a time where the state has seen a spike in homeschool education, March said. However, it is expected to face challenges in a Senate that has a slight Democratic edge, according to March. March hopes senators will see an upside for schools to gain extra funding while giving home-schooled students a chance to participate.

There are no recreational sports leagues in March’s district, she said. There are youth athletics leagues listed in Floyd County, though not for high school age students.

“We don’t have another way for kids to play sports and home-school kids don’t get any opportunity,” March said. “That’s why it was so important to me to try and get this bill passed in my first session and help communities come together.”

Shane Riddle, director of government relations and research for the Virginia Education Association, said that someone playing public school sports should already be established in the public school community and have a familiarity with students on the same team.

“If the student is not in the community, it may be because the parents don’t agree with the environment of the local schools or the public school system,” Riddle said. “But then they want the right for their child to play sports there, so that’s kind of confusing in regard to the reason they pulled them out in the first place.”

The VEA opposes the bill, but Riddle said that it would be more open to changing its position if the bill were amended. Virginia High School League, the principal administrative organization of high school athletics in the state, currently requires student athletes to be full-time students in regular attendance. VEA wants home-schooled students to participate in half a day of school, Riddle said. Participation in athletics is a privilege, not a right, he said.

The VEA would be open to changing its position if the bill was written to accommodate that idea, Riddle said. But Riddle said he doesn’t believe the patrons would want to do it. He also pointed to West Virginia’s home-school law. West Virginia’s amended law requires home-schooled students to take at least one online public school course.

With members who support and oppose the bill, the Home Educators Association of Virginia remains neutral, according to Yvonne Bunn, the organization’s director of support and government affairs.

“There are other sports resources, sports teams and sports leagues that play with mostly private schools, that are available for parents,” Bunn said. “We encourage parents to look into that before doing anything else.”

Home-school student athletes who wish to participate in public school sports must be under the age of 19 by Aug. 1 of the current academic year, must not receive compensation for their sport, and must comply with the disciplinary rules and school conduct guidelines applicable to all public high school athletes, including physical exams, according to the bill.

The bill was discussed Thursday in the Senate public education subcommittee but the panel has not voted on the measure.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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