Fairfax debates fairness of allowing home-schoolers play public school sports

February 22, 2012

Creating a level playing field appears to be the central theme in the debate on whether home-schooled students should be allowed to participate in public school sports.

Currently, home-schoolers are not allowed to take part in school sports, but legislation before the General Assembly could change that.

“Why shouldn’t home-schoolers be allowed?” asked Diane James, a mother of four home-schooled children in elementary and pre-kindergarten who would play sports at Robinson Secondary School.

“As home-schooling parents, we pay taxes that are used to support public schools. We are getting no tax write-off for not using the public schools,” James said. “Shouldn’t we be allowed to at least have our children participate in sports? ... My kids would have greater opportunities for sports activities, since home-school activities are somewhat limited.”

She added that, if approved, allowing home-schooled children to participate in public school sports would aid her children in developing relationships with other children in the community.

About 2,440 students are home-schooled in Fairfax County. Of those, fewer than 500 are high school age, according to Fairfax County public schools. Because their parents have opted out of the public school system, several areas of service are not open to the students, according to the school system.

“A home-school student can do part-time enrollment and, if approved [through an application process], they can enroll in up to two core curriculum courses” each year, said Lori Hershey, the school system’s home instruction specialist.

Fewer than 20 home-schooled students enroll part time, she said, adding that usually the classes they enroll in are mathematics, foreign language or science. Currently, home-schooled students are not allowed to enroll in enrichment courses such as art and music, Hershey said.

The School Board does not support the allowance, said Michael Molloy, the school system’s director of government relations.

“There’s an issue of equity,” he said, adding public school students must maintain academic and attendance benchmarks to participate in sports.

Legislation allowing home-schooled students to compete in sports gained approval in the Virginia House of Delegates with a 59-39 vote on Feb. 8. The legislation now awaits Senate approval.

Of the delegates who voted against the legislation, most were Democrats, and many represent Northern Virginia and other urban areas.

“It’s just not fair to have kids who have done all the time in the classroom and met the grade requirements compete against someone who hasn’t had to fulfill those requirements,” Del. Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church) said.

The Virginia High School League, which regulates public school sports, requires athletes to be students in good standing academically and in their attendance records.

“I’ve heard from a lot of constituents … essentially [saying] that it’s not fair,” she said. Kory added her public school constituents think that if a parent chooses not to send their children to public school, they are opting out of the system on all fronts.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) also voted against allowing home-schooled children to participate in sports.

“I didn’t really know what to do [on this bill], but I had six people writing me on it to vote for it and about 30 people asking me to vote against it,” Albo said. “The reason that I thought was the most salient is that it’s near impossible to make a varsity sports team in these large high schools. … This just adds more competition for a few spots.”

Only two members of the 14-person delegation representing Fairfax County in the House voted for the proposed allowance, Dels. James LeMunyon (R-Fairfax) and Barbara Comstock (R-Fairfax).

“On balance, I supported allowing home-schooled students to try out for certain public school extracurricular programs for several reasons,” LeMunyon said, adding that several states, including Pennsylvania and Florida, have the allowance. “Because home-schooled students represent only a small fraction of all students, most public school programs would not be affected in any significant way if [House Bill 947] becomes law. Also, the bill has a five-year sunset and thus the law must be reviewed before continuing the program beyond the five-year trial. Lastly, home-school families pay taxes that support public schools and public schools’ athletic programs.”

Home-school parent Taaron Meikle, who is a mother to four boys, said she also favors allowing home-schooled children to participate in public school sports.

“Of my boys, three are swimmers and one is a gymnast. As you probably realize, the cost of going through a private club to participate in a sport is enormous,” Meikle said. “With the opportunity to go through the schools, we will be able to save a lot of money. Not only that, but there will be more opportunities for college scouts to see my children in action. I have heard the opposition say that it will give some schools an advantage and that some school students might not be picked for the teams because a home-schooler got picked instead. I don’t buy into that reasoning at all. I think that if everyone has a tryout, the best will be picked — no matter where the child attends school.”

If approved by the state Senate, legislation would require the governor’s signature to become law.

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