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School system is against bill allowing homeschoolers to participate in public school activities
By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
For several years, the Galax School Board has joined in opposition of a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that seeks to allow homeschool student participation in extracurricular activities, including sports, at public schools they don’t attend.
However, due to the bill failing by only one vote the last time it was introduced in the state legislature, the board is concerned about the possibility of it passing this year.
Known as the "Tim Tebow bill" after the NFL player and former homeschool student, the legislation written by Del. Robert Bell says that no public school would be allowed to join an organization or entity that did not also allow homeschool participation.
At the Nov. 20 school board meeting, board Chairman Ray Kohl and Galax Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill noted that some form of the bill will likely be passed by the General Assembly when it convenes for its next session, beginning in January.
The board expressed opposition to the bill, and Kohl explained that the bill brings up several issues.
“There is so much wrong with this bill as it is now,” Kohl told The Gazette. “I want to see guidelines that are fair to both public school and homeschool students.”
One of the main arguments of the bill’s supporters is that, because homeschool parents are taxpayers, their children have a right to participate in afterschool activities like sports.
The school board disagrees. “No child has a right to participate in these activities,” said Kohl. “They only have the privilege.”
Kohl referred to a list of requirements that Galax school students must meet in order to be eligible for these activities. Students must maintain at least a “C” average in at least five classes, keep regular attendance and pass their state Standards of Learning requirements.
The bar for homeschoolers, however, would be set on a different level. The bill states that a student needs to show evidence of progress for two years.
“And what is progress?” Kohl said. “If I get a 35 on a test, is a 36 not an improvement?”
A major concern for Kohl is that all disciplinary actions would be taken away from the school board, as homeschool students don’t have to play by the same rules as public school students.
This scenario raises several questions, Kohl said.
What could be done if a homeschooler doesn’t show up for practice?
What if a homeschool student harassed another student or misbehaved in some other way?
“This bill takes the right of the school boards’ decision away,” he said.
At the moment, the City of Galax only has 13 students who are home schooled, according to Assistant Superintendent Rebecca Cardwell.
Kohl said that the increase in students participating would not be drastic in this area, but in larger areas such as Charlottesville the increase could be much bigger.
This scenario presents a "lose-lose" situation, according to Kohl. “Let’s say that a homeschool student and a public school student try out for a spot on the basketball team,” he said. “If the homeschool student is selected, we get an angry parent asking why a spot was given to someone who isn’t even a student at this school. If the public school student is picked, we have a homeschool parent claiming prejudice against their child because they’re home-schooled.”
Homeschool students could face an unfair consequence as well, the chairman said.
Tax money is used to fund extracurricular activities, but nowhere does the bill state that more tax money will be supplied to pay for home-schoolers taking part in public school activities.
However, there is a clause at the end of the bill that says, “reasonable fees may be charged to such students to cover the costs of participation.”
Kohl wonders how this would be fair. “If you want these students to participate, why not give us the tax money? Homeschool parents aren’t going to see it as fair if they’re the only one paying a fee for their child to participate.”
After a vote, Kohl said that the Virginia High School League committee’s plan is to simply reject the bill when it is introduced.
“If it does pass [the General Assembly], then we plan from there,” he said.
Since the bill comes closer to passing each year, Kohl is concerned that this next step may come sooner than later. “The best way to fight it at this point is to get the parents of public school students involved with the opposition,” he said.