Lawmakers debate again whether homeschooled students can play sports in public schools

RICHMOND, Va. — The state Senate may consider a bill allowing school boards to decide whether homeschooled students in Virginia can join public school sports teams.

Of the. 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 homeschooled in Florida but played football in public schools.

March said the bill would not be a statewide mandate, but rather would allow local school boards to set policy that would allow homeschooled students to participate in their programs.

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

“It could be a way for public schools to recoup some of the money and earn money to fund their programs,” March said. “I really hope that if this could pass, one of my local schools in Floyd County could run the pilot program to see what works best, and then we can get other schools to follow. “

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

Gov. Glenn Youngkin supports the bill at a time when the state has seen an increase in homeschooling, March said. However, he would face challenges in a Senate that has a slight Democratic advantage, according to March. March hopes senators will see a benefit for schools to get additional funding while giving homeschooled students a chance to participate.

There are no recreational sports leagues in the March district, she said. There are youth athletic leagues listed in Floyd County, but not for high school students.

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

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

“If the student isn’t in the community, it may be because the parents don’t agree with the environment of local schools or the public school system,” Riddle said. “But then they want the right for their child to play sports there, so it’s a bit confusing as to why they took them out in the first place.”

The VEA opposes the bill, but Riddle said she would be more willing to change her position if the bill were changed. The Virginia High School League, the primary administrative organization for high school athletics in the state, currently requires student-athletes to be full-time students in regular attendance. VEA wants homeschooled students to participate in a half-day of school, Riddle said. Participation in athletics is a privilege, not a right, he said.

The VEA would be willing to change its position if the bill was drafted to reflect that idea, Riddle said. But Riddle said he doesn’t believe customers would want to do that. He also pointed to West Virginia’s homeschooling law. West Virginia’s amended law requires home-schooled students to take at least one online course at a public school.

With members supporting and opposing the bill, the Home Educators Association of Virginia remains neutral, according to Yvonne Bunn, director of support and government affairs for the organization.

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

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

The bill was discussed Thursday at the Senate Public Education Subcommittee, but the panel did not vote on the measure.

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

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