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Williamsburgh Yorktown Daily: Home-schoolers Push for Right to Join Public School Sports Teams Print


Created:  Thursday, February 2, 2012

RICHMOND - Virginia home-schoolers want the opportunity to represent their towns on the sports field, and supporters of the "Tim Tebow bill" say paying taxes to the school district should make home-schooled students eligible to play.

Tebow, the starting quarterback for the National Football League's Denver Broncos, in 2007 became the first home-schooled athlete to be nominated for the Heisman Trophy while at the University of Florida.

Tebow, who won the Heisman that year, said he was "honored" to represent home-schooled athletes seeking access to public high school athletics, and he has become a hero for the movement.

The House Education Committee was packed Wednesday morning with home-schooled students and their parents, who smiled proudly as the bill sailed through committee in a 14-8 vote.

Delegate Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, introduced the legislation, but Delegates Randy Minchew, R-Leesburg, and David Ramadan, R-South Riding, have carried similar bills this session. The Family Foundation, a powerful conservative advocacy group in the state, also supports the measure.

Supporting school choice has been a paramount concern for Virginia conservatives. The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, recently released it's "Report Card on American Education," with a note drawing attention to the the fact that seven of the 10 top-ranked public school systems provide equal access to home-schooled students. Virginia ranked 11.

Home-schoolers need extracurricular activities for a balanced, well-rounded education, said Svetlana Doughty, a Russian evangelist from Bridgewater. She wants her children to be allowed time on the playing field, and she came to Richmond to support the bill.

In 20 states, including Maryland and North Carolina, home-schoolers are allowed to shoot hoops, run track and play other local public school sports.

Opponents from the Virginia High School League, the organization overseeing the state's interscholastic sports for public schools,are concerned the bill hurts competition in public school sports by giving home-schoolers an unfair advantage over students who must sit in classrooms.

Tebow was the shining star on his public high school football team. He led Neese High School of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to the 2005 state championship and in 2006 played for the NCAA Champion Florida Gators.

But some conservative lawmakers oppose the bill.

Delegate Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, said he worries that home-schoolers may be exposed to inappropriate material when introduced to the public school environment and, according to conservative news blog Bearing Drift, vowed to vote against the bill late Tuesday night.

Bell voted for the bill in committee, but did not comment on the nature of the inappropriate material.

Home-schoolers' access to public and private schools varies from state to state.

Delegate Kathy Byron, R-Lynchburg, home-schooled her three children for a year after her husband suffered a serious injury in an accident. She said she "supports school choice" and has heard from constituents in her district who fall on all sides of the issue.

But Byron said she knows little about the bill, which prohibits public schools from outlawing participation by home-schoolers. It also allows schools to charge additional fees to the home-schoolers to cover the cost of uniforms and other expenses.

Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Alexandria, said he has heard little from constituents in his urban district. He said the area has some of the "best schools in the state," and parents there rarely choose to home school.

He questioned how the state would monitor whether home-schoolers are scoring straight A's on their report cards and sinking baskets on the court — or, like Tebow, running and throwing for touchdowns.

Parents who home-school must submit "evidence of progress" at the end of the school year.

Evidence can be a composite score on any national standardized achievement test, an evaluation by a school superintendent or an evaluation letter sent from a licensed teacher, or from a person with a master's degree or higher in an academic discipline. Parents also may submit a report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance-learning program, or home-education correspondence school.

Hope, a high school athlete, said he remembers having his grades monitored by the school.

In many public schools, if a students fails to maintain good grades they are benched or removed from the team until their grades improve.

Delegate Jimmie Massie, R-Manassas, a high school and college athlete, supports the bill.

Massie said the state keeps tabs on home-schoolers through academic testing.

"A lot of times people have this stereotype of home-schoolers as not very athletic — it's like, go win a spelling bee or something like that — it's an honor for me to be the first one to do that," said Tebow in 2007.