Home school sports bill sacked in Senate

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Local supporters and opponents react

Landmark News Service and Staff Reports

RICHMOND – Down goes Tebow.
The bill, that is.
Legislation to let home schooled students join public school sports teams was defeated Feb. 14 in the Senate Education and Health Committee, where similar bills have failed in previous years.
The perennial proposal from Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle County) would achieve that by prohibiting public schools from joining an interscholastic governing body, such as the Virginia High School League, that bars home schoolers from public school sports.
Bell’s HB 1442 passed the House of Delegates this year, as did a similar measure he sponsored last year before its defeat in the Senate.
It was tackled again in a Senate committee, failing on an 8-7 vote when Republican Sen. Harry Blevins of Chesapeake, a retired high school principal, joined with the Democratic minority on the panel in opposition to the bill.
That type of legislation has been dubbed a “Tim Tebow” bill, a nod to the NFL quarterback who was allowed to participate in public school athletics as a Florida home schooler.
Galax School Board Chairman Ray Kohl was glad to see the bill fail to get out of the Senate committee, but he believes it will be brought forward again next year.
For him, it was another example of state education legislation that meddles in local affairs. “I find it rather alarming that in a time when we hear certain legislators continually talk about less government interference and involvement that they are the same ones who are trying to dictate what goes on in our local schools,” he said.
In the future, Kohl hopes to see the parents of public school students make their voices heard about their thoughts on the bill, be they positive or negative.
Home school mother Lisa Shaw of Galax said she is disappointed the bill didn’t pass. “We are already looking at over half of the country doing this, so why is this still an adversarial position?”
Shaw particularly felt remorse for home-schoolers in rural areas of the state, who may not have the same opportunities at extracurricular activities as students in larger cities. “Those are the ones who are going to hurt the most, and that’s a shame,” she said.
“We pay our taxes, too,” the father of a home schooled student told the Senate committee last week. “There’s no difficulty in taking our money.”
“You pay taxes that also go to purchase an F-22 fighter, that doesn’t mean you get to fly it,” fired back Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw.
The Fairfax County Democrat said parents “knew the ground rules when you opted to home school your kids” and made that choice.
Kohl said there is a common misconception about the bill’s namesake that he wanted to clear up. “Tim Tebow did not play for his local high school,” he said. “In fact, Tebow moved to a different school district with his mother in order to play his desired position on another team.
“I am not sure that [Tebow] is the best example of someone who played by the spirit of the rule, but more of an example of someone who looked for a loophole to benefit himself,” he said.
Opposing the measure were representatives of education interest groups including the Virginia Parent Teacher Association, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia High School League and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
They said creating special dispensation for home schooled students is unfair to public students who have to meet course load and other standards home schoolers don’t face.
Piggybacking on the tax argument, VEA President Meg Gruber said she, too, pays taxes.
“I wasn’t blessed by the Lord to have children. Should I have a percentage rebate?” she said. “Come on, that’s not a good argument. We pay our taxes for the betterment of all of our citizens.”
Bell closed the debate with a brief final appeal, telling senators that each year 18-year-olds are being deprived of a chance they’ll never have to play sports with their public school friends.
He has argued 29 other states already allow home schoolers to join public school teams and said his bill would give local school divisions that option.
Shaw, too, regrets that there will be at least another year that home school students will have to spend on the bench. “Why not look at the states that are doing this successfully? That’s the part I don’t understand... why are so many still voting against this when it’s already working in so many other locations?”
In the future, Shaw only hopes that dialogue can be kept open to find a way to work things out to benefit everyone. “Everyone talks about choice, and choice is good until it comes into opposition with what you think is the right choice,” she said.