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HEARING REPORT – MONDAY, JANUARY 24
Homeschool Access to Public School Sports Will Wait Another Year
After passing out of an education subcommittee last week with a 6 Y – 2 N vote, sports access for homeschoolers was “passed-by” in the full House Education Committee this morning. Instead of taking a vote, the committee chairman, Bob Tata (R-Virginia Beach), explained there would be discussion of the bill today, but the result would be a joint House-Senate study of sports access conducted this summer with the purpose of seeing how other states handle sports access.
The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) spoke briefly about the fruitless off-season efforts to talk to the Virginia High School League (VHSL). The VHSL did not want to compromise or accommodate homeschoolers in any fashion. “I don’t want to mischaracterize their position, but I think they would agree that this is a fair description.” Bell did not go into depth about the bill because most committee members were familiar with it. Instead, he allowed other supporters to speak.
Clint Thomas, who addressed the subcommittee earlier, stated, “I have no animosity toward public schools. This bill does no harm to public schools. Homeschooling has been state approved as a legitimate method of educating students for over 27 years. But VHSL does not accept us as legitimate in spite of that fact. I believe they do not have the right to exclude us, because we are indeed legitimate.”
Ethan Kaiser, an articulate ninth grader from Charlottesville, explained his course of study and homeschool lifestyle, putting in full days of study with serious courses. He explained that he gets up at 6 a.m. to begin his schoolwork, which may last until suppertime. His family is fully compliant with the state law, and he consistently gets scores above the 90 percentile. All his teachers have master’s degrees. He loves lacrosse and football, which he has played the last few years. As a ninth grader, he no longer can play on community teams because of his age. Now he finds he cannot play anywhere since he is excluded from public school tryouts.
Chairman Tata asked who Ethan’s teachers were and whether the Kaisers paid them. Ethan responded that he takes some online classes and some local classes, and yes, they pay for the classes. Tata pursued it further by asking, “Do your parents teach you in anything?” to which Ethan replied they do.
Matt Kaiser, Ethan’s father, said that, as former school teachers, they have great respect for teachers and public schools. “We just want a place at the table. Twenty-five states now allow what we are advocating and fifteen more are considering such. Please give homeschoolers a chance to try out. We don’t want a guarantee, just an opportunity.”
The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers and Family Foundation briefly spoke in favor of the bill.
Dr. Roger Jones of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals testified in opposition, stating that all students have a constitutional right to a free elementary and secondary education; however, they don’t have a right to play sports. That is a privilege for those who meet the requirements. He sees the biggest obstacle for homeschoolers is accountability for academic and discipline issues. “Public school students are allowed to participate when they meet the standards. There is no reasonable way for homeschool students to assure us they have met the standards. That’s simple fairness to public school students. There are only so many seats on the sports bench, and those seats should be reserved for those who have paid the price.”
Ann Foster, a public school parent of students at Mills Godwin High in Richmond, said she respects homeschoolers, but they have freely chosen a different path. “Public school students have all agreed to pay the price in academics and discipline, and part of their reward is extracurricular activities. They therefore enjoy an esprit de corps that comes from sharing common costs and goals with their fellow students. Their teachers are also highly qualified. I don’t see how homeschoolers can qualify since they have opted out of the system. They should not be able to pick and choose from the public school menu when they decided earlier not to belong. They should also have college-educated teachers. We are not talking apples and apples. We cannot use the same measuring stick to determine what students are allowed to participate. This bill is a Pandora’s box that we should not open.”
Delegate Morrissey responded, “I don’t understand how you and others get the idea that homeschoolers are academically deficient!”
Ms. Foster responded, “It’s not just about academics; sports are a privilege, not a right.”
Ken Tilley of VHSL reinforced his opposition by referring to a position paper from the VHSL board outlining their objections to the bill. “In many years, there has never been another issue that has brought unanimous agreement among our members, principals, etc., like this one does. We believe we must have one set of rules statewide, or chaos will reign. Homeschools, private schools, and public schools are different legitimate tracks to follow, and each must have different rules. We cannot mix and match without violating fairness and order.”
Delegate Morrissey asked if Ken Tilley would change his position if a homeschool student passed the SOLs.
Tilley responded that other requirements would have to be met, such as taking five subjects and passing five subjects, as well as enrollment.
Delegate Morrissey countered, “Shouldn’t what is best for the student be the main consideration?”
Tilley answered, “I am speaking on behalf of public school students.”
Delegate Landes suggested the committee “pass the bill by” since they will have a special subcommittee meeting this summer after a study is done. “This body has never had an in-depth study of this issue. I believe that sometime soon this bill will become law.”