Allowing Home Schoolers to Play Team Sports
Twenty-four states allow home schooled students to participate in interscholastic sports as members of their local school district’s teams. Last week the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) voted to make it 25. One other state, Vermont, allows students to participate not in team sports, but in individual sports like golf or cross-country.
Supporters of equal access note that families of home-schooled kids pay school taxes like everyone else. They believe that kids who are home schooled should still have the opportunity to avail themselves of the opportunities provided in their local public school, including sports. NJSIAA director Steven Timko says, “In all the meetings that I’ve attended on a national level, it really has not been as big of a deal as you might think.”
Well, it depends on where you sit. If you’re the parent of an enrolled student athlete who is now sitting the bench while a home schooled student plays, you may not feel as generous. If you’re the principal of a public school defending to that parent the home schooled student’s right to play, I can assure you that it is a big deal.
In New York State, where I spent by administrative career, home schoolers’ access to their local public school’s extracurricular activities is a local board decision. Some districts allow limited access; some allow virtually no access. My district, at my urging, allowed home schooled students to participate in college guidance, for example, and to use the school library. Home schoolers could attend special programs and assemblies with guest speakers. They could participate in the school musical, an after school activity, but not in the band, which was a credit-bearing course. They did not participate in sports.
New Jersey insists that home schoolers who wish to play sports must meet the same requirements as enrolled students. This idea is reasonable on the surface, but like most aspects of home schooling, it is impossible to monitor. In some schools, for example, enrolled students need to be in school for the entire day and must have a passing grade in all of their courses to be eligible for interscholastic sports. There is no way to accurately monitor the home schooler’s daily progress, and I speak from experience. In New York State the local school superintendent has to sign off on the home instruction plans and then review the quarterly reports. In my experience in the poor rural area where I worked, some parents who home school are absolutely wonderful. They themselves are educated and they offer their children a solid learning program enhanced with myriad field trips and self discovery. Other parents can barely read themselves, yet feel they are capable of teaching reading to their primary-aged children. Both kinds of parents manage to hand in acceptable plans and reports with assistance from home school groups.
So a part of me praises the New Jersey decision – the part that believes in offering what’s best for individual kids. But a part of me knows that there are problems with allowing access to team sports. Like so many things in education, there are no easy answers. Also, like so many things in education, decisions are made by those who don’t have to enforce them.