Virginia May Allow Homeschool Students on Public School Teams

Published March 15, 2015

Virginia House Bill 1626 would give public schools the option of allowing homeschool students to participate in their athletic programs and other activities. The measure is nicknamed the Tebow bill, after former NFL player and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, who was homeschooled in Florida and played for a local high school team. The bill passed the General Assembly and could become law if signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) and Del. David I. Ramadan (R-South Riding) introduced the bill.

Robert Holland, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says although adopting Tebow bills and laws has become a popular issue, creating such laws is not in the best interest of homeschooling families.

“Naming equal-access bills after Tim Tebow was a brilliant move,” Holland said. “The very name suggests that if states do not enact laws as Florida did to allow homeschooled kids like Tebow to play high-school sports, primarily football, tomorrow’s heroic Tim Tebows will languish in obscurity, flipping burgers instead of winning national collegiate championships. The measure could just as well be dubbed No Tebows Left Behind.”

Holland says enacting Tebow laws poses a danger of parents losing the autonomy and freedom homeschooling creates.

“The problem is that such a bid for selective special privileges within the governmental school system inevitably weakens the homeschooling independence that pioneering parents worked so hard for decades to gain, sometimes at the risk of prosecution,” Holland said. “As homeschoolers engaging in public-school sports, clubs, and even occasional classes come under state regulation, political pressure will mount to bring all of homeschooling into conformity.”

Homeschool Families Push Back

Although the Home School Legal Defense Association takes a neutral position on Tebow laws, HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff says homeschooling parents have fought hard for Virginia’s Tebow bill.

“A bunch of homeschool families got together to push back” against the public school administrations, said Woodruff. “Each individual high school still has the option to allow homeschoolers to play or not, even if this becomes law.” 

Woodruff says at meetings he attended regarding the Tebow bill in Virginia, some opposing the bill claimed it would allow “uneducated” students to play on the teams.

“One of the arguments against the bill was if you let homeschoolers join the team, all these bad things might happen,” Woodruff said. “All those terrible things are not going to happen. I suspect it would go very smoothly.” 

Fighting a Stigma

Woodruff says homeschool families are always fighting a stigma.

“Frankly, they were all silly arguments,” Woodruff said, of those opposing the Tebow bill who spoke during public meetings. “Opponents said, ‘No, no, no, we can’t let them on the team because they are not part of our community.’ But homeschoolers are in the community. They go to the churches in the community. They shop in the stores in the community. They live in the neighborhoods in the community. Allowing the homeschool students on those teams would allow homeschoolers the chance to complete the concept of being part of the community.” 

Several states already have adopted Tebow laws.

“There’s a very strong nationwide trend of states allowing homeschool students to try out for athletic teams,” Woodruff said.

Proving Critics Wrong

For years, homeschool families have worked to provide ways to socialize their children, contrary to one of the most common criticisms of homeschooling, Holland said.

“In proving their critics wrong, home educators have taken justifiable pride in finding creative solutions to such supposed problems as lack of ‘socialization’ for their children by forming homeschool co-ops, leading regular field trips, and organizing clubs and, yes, athletic leagues,” said Holland. “Indeed, many homeschooled athletes have won NCAA scholarships and have even played for professional and Olympic teams without the crutch of Tebow laws.”

Holland said being on traditional public school teams is not worth the risk of greater government regulation and influence.

“Home educators ought to continue to be models of creativity instead of seekers of government favors,” Holland said. “The ability to homeschool without government interference highlights the centrality of parental rights in education, and hence is critical to the broader school choice movement.”

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by Jamie Williams.