A bill to allow homeschooled students to compete alongside their public school peers in sports passed both Virginia’s House and Senate in February, but instead of signing House Bill 1626, as supporters of the bill had hoped, Gov. Terri McAuliffe (D) vetoed it in late March, along with several other legislative items.
In a press release summarizing a March 30 press conference in Richmond, the governor’s office characterized the bill as creating “a double standard” because homeschooled students “are not subject to academic or attendance requirements of public schools.”
Sponsored by Del. David Ramadan (R-Loudoun) and Robert Bell (R-Charlottesville), HB 1626, also known as the “Tebow Bill,” would have given public school districts the option of allowing local homeschoolers to participate in athletics.
“Affording our constituents’ kids the opportunity to play sports at their schools, schools that their parents pay taxes to build, is simply a fairness issue,” Ramadan said.
“Special interest [groups] and organizations that circle around the school system have decided [the bill] would take away from their power, and they don’t want to give up that total domination,” Ramadan said. “The veto killed the aspirations of thousands of our constituents.”
Part of the Community
“Homeschool kids tend to be incredibly smart, advanced academically from their peers, and they tend to be principled kids,” Ramadan said. “If our kids just want to be part of their communities and play sports, they should [be allowed to do so].”
Partnering with homeschoolers is something many Virginia schools have already chosen to do in academics.
“The schools do allow them to go in for academics and choose [up to] three classes,” said Renee Fornshill, co-director of Skye Chase Co-Op in Alexandria, Virginia. “It seems that it would be a natural development of that relationship.”
Limited Field of Play
McAuliffe said in his press release that “the wide availability of athletic programs that operate outside the public school system” present enough athletic opportunities for homeschooled children.
Athletic programs are widely available in the state, but they exclude many traditional high school sports. In Northern Virginia, the only football league open to homeschooled students is in Manassas.
After 8th grade, the range of league sports is very limited, Fornshill says.
“As far as playing lacrosse, football, wrestling, [my son] doesn’t have the opportunity to pick those as an option,” Fornshill said. “As a practical [issue], it limits college scholarships.”
Big Organizations Stayed Neutral
Although many homeschool parents advocate access to public school sports, some big organizations remained politically neutral on the bill.
“It is not in our purpose to get homeschooled students back into public schools,” said Yvonne Bunn, director of legal affairs at Home Educators Association of Virginia. “We understand that there are students, particularly in rural areas, who would benefit from this, and it’s the parent’s right to choose what is right for their children.”
The Virginia Home School Athletic Association (VHSAA) also took a neutral stance as an organization, but Jason Weatherholtz, VHSAA commissioner and a homeschool parent, doesn’t see a need for the Tebow bill.
“In my opinion, the choice is homeschool, private school, or public school,” said Weatherholtz. “In Virginia, there is something within an hour drive for every homeschooler. There are sports in all areas of the state. … We don’t need to have access to public schools.”
Weatherholtz personally agrees with the governor’s decision to veto.
“There are so many recruiters and tools to be found if you [excel] at a sport,” Weatherholtz said. “You don’t have to go to public school to get a scholarship.”
Ramadan says he will continue to support similar legislation in the future.
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
Image by xanteen.