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The Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee has been a field of nightmares for perennial legislation to let home-school students play public sports.
And it was again on Friday.
On a 9-6 party-line vote, the Democrat-run panel voted down Del. Rob Bell’s version of the so-called “Tim Tebow” bill.
As it did this year, the measure named for the onetime pro football quarterback now pursuing an NFL return had previously cleared the House of Delegates only to get sacked in the Senate.
A lineup of home-school youngsters from around Virginia made plaintive fairness appeals to the committee for what they consider athletic parity with their public school counterparts.
Opposing them was a roster of public education advocates, including representatives of the Virginia High School League, the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
Many of them argued the bill would create a double standard for home-school students by allowing them to participate in public school athletics without meeting the same standards their public school counterparts have to.
Bell told the committee the bill wouldn’t cause harm because 64 Virginia public schools already make exceptions for non-public students to participate in certain extracurricular activities. And 29 states already make those allowances.
Bell said it also will allow each local school division to make up its mind about athletic participation by home-school students and, citing a recent Virginia Commonwealth University poll, said there is broad public support for that.
The poll found that 72 percent of respondents favor letting home-schooled students join public school sports teams.
Opposing the legislation, Ken Tilley of the Virginia High School League told the committee that participation in public school athletics is a “privilege, not a right” adhered to by 313 member schools around the state.
Students in those schools “earn the opportunity to try out by meeting a common set of eligibility standards” that home-school students aren’t held to.
Committee member Sen. Bill Carrico challenged Tilley about what he perceives as the irony of a recent VHSL decision to allow transgender students to play public school sports.
The Grayson County Republican said that decision means the group is “going to allow a male to play female sports as long as they are taking hormones and having surgery, yet you won’t let these kids that are home-schooled play in VHSL sports.”
The distinction, Tilley explained, is that the new policy applies to participation by students enrolled in public schools.
The bill was doomed again when Democrats took control of the Senate last month, with the help of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam of Norfolk after party candidates won special elections to fill two Senate vacancies, and gave themselves majorities on most committees.
Despite its defeat, Bell said he’s confident Virginia home-school students will eventually be allowed to join public school athletics as they are in 29 other states.
“It just won’t be in time for some of you in high school,” he told a crowd of home-school students and parents after the hearing. “That makes me sad.”