Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly described the Virginia Senate as Democrat-controlled. The chamber is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) holding the tiebreaking vote. The following version has been corrected.
A BILL THAT would allow Virginia students who are home-schooled to play on public-school sports teams has cleared the state House and is now headed to a Senate committee, where a similar measure died last year. Our reservations about the so-called “Tebow Bill” have been rooted in a belief that issues about athletic eligibility, student activities and what constitutes a school community shouldn’t be usurped by Richmond.
It is clear, though, that the group entrusted with helping to make those determinations needs to revisit rules that have become too rigid. Local school districts that want to include home-schooled students are barred from even trying.
Last week, the House of Delegates passed, 56 to 43, a bill (H.B. 1442) that would lift the current bar against the participation of home-schooled students in public-school sports. The legislation — its nickname refers to NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who played on a high school team in Florida while he was home-schooled — has been introduced in Virginia since 2005 but has died in the face of opposition from statewide education organizations.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville), was improved this year to spell out that any decision about the participation of home-schooled students would be left strictly to local school boards. Even with that local option being made clear and other provisions to guard against abuses, the bill, which is expected to be heard this week in the Senate education and health committee, faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
The current ban against home-schoolers is the result of long-standing policy set by the Virginia High School League, which governs interscholastic sports and other activities in Virginia’s more than 300 high schools. Home-schooled students, league officials have argued, don’t have to meet the same attendance and academic criteria as public-school students, and that makes for an unfair playing field. No doubt the issues are complicated and, for many, emotional. But 26 other states have managed to allow home-schoolers to play sports, either by right or through local option, with apparent success. In Virginia, elementary and middle school students participate in public-school activities with no problems.
There is no doubt that, if the Tebow Bill is defeated, it would be reintroduced next year. Mr. Bell believes that a generational change of attitudes is occurring about home-schooling in which the lines are being blurred and it’s only a matter of time before his bill is approved. State athletic officials ought to look for a solution that preserves a level playing field but doesn’t deny local school districts or their students the important right to choose.