Home-schoolers and private school students will be able to enroll in up to two credit-earning courses in Prince William County schools starting this fall.

Enrollment will be on a "space available" basis, and students will not be able to transfer from one school to another, unless they're interested in a class offered through a specialty program. Students also will have to take the Standards of Learning tests, if their classes require them.

The policy change is a matter of fairness, said School Board member Don Richardson (Gainesville), a proponent. "It's trying to look at it like a partnership, rather than a competition," he said.

Home-schoolers and private school students will not be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities or school-sponsored athletics.

The School Board voted unanimously June 2 to change its policies to allow partial enrollment.

The change is something that a group of home-schooling parents had worked for this past year, said Shay Seaborne of Woodbridge, president of the Virginia Home Education Association. "This was really grass-roots," Seaborne said.

The policy change will affect only middle and high school students, because they are the only ones taking courses for high school credit. There are 584 home-schoolers in middle and high school in Prince William, according to records the county compiled in April. The county has a total 1,229 home-schoolers.

Only a small fraction of those students is likely to take advantage of the program, Richardson and Seaborne said.

Richardson said that looking at the numbers of other counties that allow similar enrollment, such as Chesterfield County, perhaps 25 students in Prince William would enroll in one or two classes. Chesterfield has 1,700 home-schoolers, 75 of whom are taking classes at the middle or high school level. This fall, Prince William will work out any kinks in the program, such as the definition of "space available," Richardson said.

The school system has experience in accommodating students who move to the county midyear and should be able to work out similar issues with home-schoolers and private school students, Richardson said.

"What we're hoping is that common sense will prevail," he said.

Seaborne, who home-schools her two daughters, 11 and 14, said that although the Virginia Home Education Association wanted the change, "where it's allowed, very few home-schoolers actually take advantage of it."

Many parents would like their home-schoolers to participate in sports or after-school activities, according to the parents group's polls, Seaborne said. She said she is waiting for guidance from group members to see whether that's an issue to tackle at the state level.