Homeschoolers: ‘Let us play’

Published 10:06 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

By Margaret Carmel

Capital News Service

Supporters of home-schooled students playing sports in public schools unleashed their secret weapon at the Virginia Capital on Wednesday — home-schoolers themselves.

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Home-schooling advocates and their children gathered in the state Capitol to hear remarks from Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, and Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Lynchburg, the sponsors of legislation commonly called the “Tebow bill.”

Afterward, the home-schoolers and parents signed a large card urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to sign the legislation into law. The group presented the message to the front gate guard at the Governor’s Mansion.

The legislation is named after star quarterback Tim Tebow, who played football for a public high school in Florida while being homeschooled. The General Assembly has passed two identical bills that would allow homeschooled students in Virginia to participate in interscholastic sports and other programs at their local public school:

Senate Bill 612, proposed by Garrett, passed the Senate 22-17 on Feb. 2 and then the House 58-40 on Feb. 19. McAuliffe must decide whether to sign, veto or amend the bill by Monday.

House Bill 131, introduced by Bell, cleared the House 58-41 on Jan. 27 and the Senate 23-17 on Monday. McAuliffe’s deadline to act on the measure is next Thursday.

The bills would prohibit Virginia public schools from joining interscholastic organizations that ban homeschoolers from participating. This would put pressure on the Virginia High School League to allow homeschooled students. The legislation does not require local school boards to let homeschooled students participate in sports or other activities.

Moreover, the legislation states, “Reasonable fees may be charged to students who receive home instruction to cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs, including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, and equipment.”

McAuliffe vetoed similar legislation last year.

Public school teachers oppose the Tebow bill on grounds that students who do not attend a school should not represent that school on the athletic field. They say there is no way to verify whether homeschoolers have the grades and meet other criteria required of public school students.

Garrett said homeschoolers in Virginia deserve the right to participate in school activities.

“There are homeschoolers in science labs,” he said. “There are homeschoolers on stages. There are homeschoolers in college credit courses. Why aren’t there homeschoolers on our playing fields?”

The governor has not indicated what action he might take on the legislation. Homeschooling parents like Polly Seymour from Fluvanna said it was important to come and let their voices be heard.

“I have a younger son coming up who is excited about sports,” Seymour said. “I’m hoping that by the time he gets to high school, he’ll be able to play in the public schools. Sports is very important in our family, and opportunities to play disappear as they get older.”