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Homeschoolers seek permission to play

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A homeschool educator believes public schools should work with parents to allow homeschooled students to take part in sports and other extracurricular activities at public schools. The Galax School Board opposes a bill that would allow this, but homeschoolers and public school officials aren't too far apart in their opinions.

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By SHAINA STOCKTON
Staff

The Galax School Board has spent several years joining in opposition of a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that seeks to allow homeschool students to participate in public school extracurricular activities, including sports.
The legislation — known as the “Tim Tebow Bill," named after the NFL player and former homeschooler — came closer than ever to passing this year, and Galax school officials feel it has a stronger chance of passing in the upcoming 2013 General Assembly session.
Earlier this month, Galax School Board Chairman Ray Kohl spoke to The Gazette about the bill and why the board opposes it, including concerns about homeschool students meeting academic standards required of public school athletes and how disciplinary action would be handled for players who aren’t students of the school system.
Speaking for homeschool parents in the area, homeschool mother and administrator of the Southwest Virginia Home Educators group, Lisa Shaw, says she takes issue with some of Kohl’s statements about the bill.
After moving to this area from Florida, Shaw said that she was surprised at how much distance existed between the public school system and homeschool parents in the area. “When I moved here, [homeschoolers] had no organized group,” she said. “There was an e-loop that passed along information, and individuals got together as they saw fit.”
When the group was formed, more than 100 families were added to the database. Members are made up of homeschoolers in Galax, Grayson and Carroll. The website organized information about the area, including activities that are available to homeschoolers.
However, these activities are severely limited, according to Shaw.
“If a child is drawn to an activity, getting into these programs helps them move on in life, find their passion and move down an educational path that encourages that passion.”
Shaw said homeschoolers have an organized basketball team, but there are no existing outlets for volleyball, soccer and other sports. “If any homeschool student wants to join these other sports, they are out of luck. There are bigger areas that offer fantastic athletic programs, but we don’t have the resources to participate there."
If these programs are available, Shaw noted that homeschoolers would have a better chance of receiving scholarships to go to college. With the existing limits, however, students could miss several windows of opportunity.
Shaw, a religious-exempt homeschool mother, says she took her children out of public school because she believed that she and her husband were responsible for providing core education to their children. With this arrangement, their children are taught based on their different learning styles.
“I want to state for the record that I’m not a homeschool parent who believes every child should be homeschooled. In fact, I respect public school teachers,” said Shaw, noting that public schools offer ideal learning environments for many students.
However, Shaw doesn’t believe that children should be exempt from extracurricular activities just because a parent opts them out of the core educational program.
She and the school board chairman actually agree on a number of points.
One of Kohl’s arguments is that children don’t have a  "right" to these activities, they only have the privilege.
To this, Shaw agrees.
To Kohl’s statement regarding discipline, Shaw also agrees that rules should apply to every child — public school or homeschooled students.
She suggests that, if any child does not follow the rules of participation, punish them in the same manner. If a parent or a child does not want to agree to these rules, then they don’t shouldn’t be allowed to participate in that activity.
The same goes for a child’s academic requirements. Shaw also agrees with Kohl that the “C” average that a public school student must keep in order to participate is not an unreasonable requirement.
“If a child needs a “C”, why not make homeschool parents provide proof that they meet that requirement as well?” she suggests.
This might not be a difficult bar for homeschool students to meet. According to a study commissioned by the Home School Legal Defense Association and conducted by National Home Education Research Institute’s president Brian Ray in 2009, homeschoolers scored between the 84th and 89th percentile in various subjects through standardized testing compared to public schoolers, who averaged scores in the 50th percentile.
Shaw disagreed with Kohl’s statement pertaining to the extra fees associated with added participation by homeschool students.
(There is a clause at the end of the bill that says "reasonable fees" may be charged to homeschool students to cover the costs of participation in public school activities.)
“I don’t believe there would be a fiscal impact,” she said, and suggested that the school budget simply be expanded to allow more funding for the extra students. She noted that tax money paid by homeschool parents should more than make up for any money spent on additional athletic equipment, since their children do not attend school or otherwise cost the school system any money.
Shaw acknowledged that some homeschool parents also disagree with the bill, saying that they didn’t want any part of the public school program.
“The word I’ve heard a lot is fear,” she said. “Public schools are afraid of conflicts regarding discipline. Homeschool parents are afraid that their children will see what they are missing and want to stop homeschooling.”
Kohl said that, if the bill passes, the scenario could result in something that makes no one happy. He described a hypothetical situation where a homeschool student and a public school student try out for a spot on the basketball team.
If the homeschool student were selected, the public school student’s parent could be upset because a spot was given to someone who isn’t even a student at the school.
If the public school student is picked, the homeschooler’s parent could claim prejudice against their child because they’re home-schooled.
Like Kohl, Shaw would love to see a proactive approach to the bill, eventually creating a system that works for everyone. “To those who oppose the bill, I ask them to look at the states where this has worked,” she said.
More than 20 states offer some form of extracurricular participation to homeschool students, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
The bill, by Del. Robert Bell, failed by only one vote the last time it was introduced in the state legislature — the closest it has ever come to passing, after several attempts.
The legislation says that no public school would be allowed to join an organization or entity, like the Virginia High School League, that did not also allow homeschool participation.
Kohl said that the VHSL committee’s plan is to simply reject the bill when it is introduced.
With the bill coming closer to passing in Virginia each year, Shaw urges that, instead of fighting against the inevitable, it would be more productive to work together to ensure a favorable outcome.
“I think that the thing that will go the furthest is having open dialogue and not being adversarial with each other,” she said.