Homeschool sports access hinges on Senate

Published 9:55 pm Friday, January 24, 2014

By Colin Kennedy

Capital News Service

After nearly a decade of debate, some Virginia legislators are hopeful homeschooled students will soon be allowed to participate in public school sports.

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House Bill 63, which was proposed by Delegate Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, progressed through the House of Delegates’ Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee this past week and likely will be heard by the House Education Committee next week.

This year’s version of the bill is identical to those that have failed by one vote at the Senate Education and Health Committee in recent years, Bell says, but there is reason for optimism this time around.

“For several years it has passed the House and been defeated in the Senate,” Bell said. “The Senate has always been a trouble, (but) we’ve got some changes in membership … so we’re hopeful we can get it out of the Senate this year.”

These membership changes could make all the difference in 2014. Two members of the Senate Education and Health Committee — both of whom repeatedly voted against the legislation — have vacated their positions.

Former Sen. Harry Blevins retired and former Sen. Ralph Northam recently was elected as lieutenant governor.

Right now, homeschoolers can’t participate in public school extracurriculars because the Virginia High School League, which oversees all high school sports in the state, prevents them from doing so.

Sen. John Miller, a Democrat who represents part of Suffolk, is a member of the Senate’s Education and Health Committee and previously served as the Senate representative of the VHSL. He says he thinks the bill would be unfair to public school students because homeschoolers would need to meet fewer eligibility requirements to participate.

HB63, which is nicknamed the “Tebow” bill after the former NFL quarterback who was allowed to play in public school athletics as a Florida homeschooler, would prohibit the commonwealth’s public schools from being members of the VHSL unless the school alters its eligibility regulations to include homeschooled students.