Should home-schooled children be welcomed in public-school sports?

Sunday, June 12, 2011 at 10:05pm
PearlCohnMain.jpg
Jude Ferrara (SouthComm)

Children whose parents opted out of the public education system in favor of home schooling will have an opportunity this fall to join Metro high school athletic teams for the first time. 

The change in policy — opening the door for home-schooled students to intermingle on an extracurricular level with their traditionally educated peers — represents a more restrictive version of the kind of arrangement that famously allowed Tim Tebow to star as a run-first quarterback on a Florida high school football field while he focused on Christian-based studies at home. 

The shift came after the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association took an unprecedented step in December, when it voted to establish a set of minimum eligibility requirements for home-schooled students to participate in public or private school extracurricular sports. Students must meet 10 criteria for eligibility, including various academic and curriculum guidelines. This, combined with a $300 fee charged to home-schooled participants at Metro schools and full tuition at private schools, could mean there would be few home-schoolers joining TSSAA-backed teams. Like traditional students, home-schoolers must try out and make the squad. 

Outside Nashville, the new TSSAA bylaw has set off a debate, both on operational and philosophical points. 

In Memphis, Shelby County Schools’ board of education is weighing whether to follow the athletic association’s recommendations and welcome home-schooled athletes. There, some board members have in recent weeks voiced worries about liability issues that could arise when home-schooled children are injured on a public school playing field. Newspaper editorials have followed, with skeptics asking whether children who divested from public schools should reap the benefits of the athletic competition those schools offer. 

But head east on Interstate 40 to Metro Nashville Public Schools, and officials are making the transition without rancor. In fact, the move is happening absent any real buzz or discussion among school board members. 

“This is just now going into effect this fall,” said Roosevelt Sanders, Metro schools’ athletics department director, adding that the key is to hold homeschoolers accountable to academic standards. “As with other students, if you follow the guidelines, fine. But if you don’t, it will have to be looked at to see if you’ll be able to continue to participate.” 

For years, home-schooled athletes have tended to organize on teams exclusively with their home-schooled peers. The Middle Tennessee Home Education Association has sponsored the Makos swim team, for example, allowing competitors to square off against swimmers for area public and private schools at meets. There are also squads like the Middle Tennessee Fire, a Christian-centered soccer team that competes against traditional schools in tournaments. Similar home-school teams exist for basketball, eight-man football and other sports. But any effect the new TSSAA bylaw — and Metro’s adherence to it — might have on existing home-school teams remains unclear. 

Sanders, tapped to oversee Metro’s athletics program last year, said so far he’s only received a handful of phone calls from home-schooling parents who want to discuss their options. He said he expects interest to pick up before the Aug. 1 deadline for home-schoolers to apply with the district. There is also an Aug. 15 deadline to register for some sports, including those that traditionally take place in the spring. 

“I know that will change as No. 1, it gets more publicized, and No. 2, as the August deadline approaches,” he said. 

Bernard Childress, executive director of the TSSAA, said the new policy is 12 years in the works. During that time, he said a committee tasked with studying the move met twice each year, conducted surveys and wrote drafts of the now-approved bylaw to comply with state law. 

“The big issue has always been not participation but how are we going to measure their academic progress,” Childress said. “It was an educational process. They realized academic progress can be monitored, and they can be accountable for their grades. The council felt comfortable in going ahead and implementing the rule.” 

Requirements for home-schooled athletes participating in public-school sports are stringent under the new rules. A student must be taking courses on at least five academic subjects that count toward graduation; meet the same academic and conduct standards required of all student-athletes; and receive at least four hours of instruction each day. Home-schooled students have to submit proof of medical insurance that lists the TSSAA as an insured party. In addition, all home-schoolers must be enrolled at a school administered by his or her parent or legal guardian. 

Childress said local boards of education may exercise the right to stiffen guidelines, which could include banning home-schooled students from public-school athletics altogether. He said home-schooled students must reside within the school district where they are seeking to play or within 20 miles of a desired private-school team, as part of the bylaw. 

Eligible athletes have to be registered with the surrounding school district or private school. But a greater number of home-schooled students are believed to be involved in various church-sponsored programs, to which the law does not extend. The City Paper could not determine exactly how many students are registered with such organizations. 

According to MNPS spokeswoman Olivia Brown, 309 home-schooled students registered with Metro and received waivers from Director of Schools Jesse Register this past year to take coursework at home. 

Childress said the TSSAA hasn’t heard from many school districts that explicitly oppose the move. 

“We’ll hear one or two every once in a while say, ‘We’ll only allow students who enroll in our schools to participate,’ ” Childress said. “But we’ve probably only heard a minimum of three to five school systems that have made that statement. Most are saying that they’re going to take a serious look at it.” 

Metro Nashville Board of Education chair Gracie Porter said she heard discussion last year about granting access to home-schooled athletes to compete on Metro teams, but she wasn’t entirely familiar with the bylaw that has since been approved. She said she doesn’t expect the nine-member board to discuss the issue. 

“They should be held to the same standards as the students that are enrolled in our schools,” Porter said of home-schooled athletes. “My only concern is liability, of course, with any student. What happens if a child gets injured? That would be the question in my mind. I know for sure that the district is looking
at all of this and making sure that everything is covered.” 

Likewise, board member Mark North, who frequently cites sports as essential in youth development, said he was aware of the new policy but had heard little discussion. He said he wasn’t informed enough to comment on the issue. 

Hillwood High School Principal Steve Chauncy, who serves on TSSAA’s board of control, said he sees nothing wrong with the inclusion of home-schooled students on public sports teams. 

“It’s just giving kids who are being home-schooled an opportunity to participate in athletics,” Chauncy said. “Based on all the guidelines, it’s pretty exhaustive of things a [home-schooled] student would have to do. And just like any other student-athlete, they’re going to have to meet the academic requirements as well as the eligibility requirements of TSSAA.”  

38 Comments on this post:

By: Moonglow1 on 6/13/11 at 6:14

Moonglow1: home schooled children should not be able to participate in public school sports. They cannot have it booth ways.

By: Moonglow1 on 6/13/11 at 6:16

Moonglow1: corrected-both ways.

By: house_of_pain on 6/13/11 at 6:40

They should be able to play. Their parents pay taxes that support public schools, too.

By: treehugger7 on 6/13/11 at 6:43

4 hours of instruction each day? That's not much, is it? I went to school at least six hours a day. What gives?

By: GammaMoses on 6/13/11 at 6:49

house_of_pain you're so right. Home schoolers' parents should get something for the taxes they pay to support public schools.

By: GammaMoses on 6/13/11 at 6:49

house_of_pain you're so right. Home schoolers' parents should get something for the taxes they pay to support public schools.

By: Moonglow1 on 6/13/11 at 7:01

Moonglow1: I am surprised that this new policy was. "12 years in the works" according to Childress. Twelve years is a very long time to be focused on this subject when there are so many other critical issues to be studied & debated. I agree that home school parents pay taxes but instead of supporting public education they opt out. So why should they be able to "cherry pick" what suits them. It should be all or nothing.

By: Chris72 on 6/13/11 at 7:29

I don't see what the big deal is. Why shouldn't they be allowed to try out and play? They should be held to the same standards as the public school kids. If there's a concern about their grades, test them.

12 years in the making........I doubt it was a hot topic debate for the past 12 years, otherwise I'm sure we would've heard about it. I'm sure critical issues have been worked on during that time as well......Don't see it at all as parent's "cherry picking"

There's many different reasons parents would choose to home school over public school. A lot of schools/districts leave a lot to be desired. I've gone the public school route, but there was a time or two I was very tempted to home school my kids. Currently I'm looking at possibly relocating job wise to the Memphis area......I have a 5 year old and no desire at all for her to be in the public school system there.

I dont' understand though, how if a home school child gets injured on the field is any different liability wise as a public school child being injured?

By: rawhide on 6/13/11 at 7:54

"I agree that home school parents pay taxes but instead of supporting public education they opt out. . . . It should be all or nothing."

Who says?

"4 hours of instruction each day? That's not much, is it? I went to school at least six hours a day."

Were you receiving instruction, at a student/teacher ratio of 5:1 or 3:1, for six hours? or even 4 hours?

By: Kai_Es on 6/13/11 at 7:54

As a homeschool parent, I think it's about time Tennessee opened up some school programs to homeschooled kids. As long as the kids meet the same eligibility requirements as their public school counterparts, I don't see what the big deal is. In other states not only can homeschoolers participate in public school sports, but they can also attend part time. I have a cousin whose daughter attends for math, music, PE and lunch/recess but who is homeschooled for every other subject so that her mom can address her kinesthetic learning style. I would love for my artistic daughter to attend just for classes like art and music, which can be costly to provide privately. However, I'll take this new law as a step in the right direction and hope that there will be continued improvements in the relationship between the LEA and homeschoolers - at least before mine graduates high school!

By: Radix on 6/13/11 at 8:03

Moonglow is completely clueless as usual. Just a flippant comment without logic or basis to back it up.

If they are not permitted to participate, their parents should not have to pay property taxes. That's what property taxes go to. They are paying for it, why can they participate? The real injustice is forcing parents, through taxing, to pay for schools that are failing so badly that they have to educate their kids at home. Basically paying for it twice.

Did you know that the failing DC schools receive $13,000 per kid of taxpayers money? If parents were allowed to keep that money, or use vouchers, all those poor kids could afford Sidwell Friend's school where Obama sends his kids. He can afford it, he is wealthy. Taxpayers and poor kids lose out when government runs education.

By: TNSC on 6/13/11 at 8:11

There is absolutely no reason to deny homeschooled children access to athletics programs beyond small minded pettiness and an us-them mentality. Either we in TN want to help ALL children get the best education possible using ALL & ANY resources that would benefit them or we desire to punish the children of those who take a non-traditional educational path with their children. The guidelines and restrictions as presented sound reasonable and make the effort to make it fair to all involved.

By: gdiafante on 6/13/11 at 8:17

They are not a part of the public school system so no, they shouldn't be allowed to play. It's that simple.

By: BigPapa on 6/13/11 at 8:21

This idea is wrought with the opprotunity for misuse. If you think recruiting by Carlton Flat at BA was bad, wait until all the star players are home schooled and "free agents." Fun times ahead for sure.
If the public school isnt good enough for Little Johnny, then NONE of it should be good enough. You shouldn't get to pick and chose.

By: Kai_Es on 6/13/11 at 8:30

BigPapa wrote:
"If the public school isnt good enough for Little Johnny, then NONE of it should be good enough. You shouldn't get to pick and chose."

And why the heck not? We get to pick and choose in every other aspect of our lives. Our schools are in the crapper. TN ranks near the bottom in terms of quality education. Why should I have to inflict poor education on my child just because they are a gifted athlete and wants to compete on a school team?

By: gdiafante on 6/13/11 at 8:43

Because, Kai, that's the way it is. I guess you can add "Whining 101" to your homeschool schedule. Then little Johnny won't only be socially retarded but quite capable of throwing tantrums in the real world when he doesn't get what he wants.

By: localboy on 6/13/11 at 8:44

Valid points have been made for both sides of the argument; however since the parents are taxpayers there shouldn't be anything preventing the schools from offering limited access to selected programs. However, nowadays paying taxes isn't the only cash that comes out of the parents pockets for public high schools, so as long as the home schoolers pull their own financial weight how much is the school system really harmed?

By: rawhide on 6/13/11 at 8:47

Who says people "shouldn't get to pick and choose"?

And who are the public schools intended to serve? It is a boon to the public schools to have decreased student rolls.

You folks sound like it hurts your feelings that some parents choose alternatives to educate their kids. Sounds bigoted.

In any event BigPapa, your kids would probably benefit from some socialization by home schooled kids.

By: Kai_Es on 6/13/11 at 8:48

gdiafante wrote:
"Because, Kai, that's the way it is. I guess you can add "Whining 101" to your homeschool schedule. Then little Johnny won't only be socially retarded but quite capable of throwing tantrums in the real world when he doesn't get what he wants."

Actually, that's NOT the way it is. Or did you miss the point of the article? Things are changing. And to assume that homeschoolers are socially retarded just goes to prove the prejudice and discrimination against anyone who goes against the grain. Personally, I won't be one of the few who will be utilizing the public school teams, as my daughter's sport isn't a public school sport, but I believe in the right of others to do so.

By: Navy on 6/13/11 at 8:50

I think if they are to good to go to a public school. They are to good to play sports with all the normal kids.

By: conservativegirl1 on 6/13/11 at 9:09

All Tennesseans pay property taxes and taxes for food and other items. Whether or not they take advantage of public school classes is a moot point. They have paid for services from the public schools for their children, and that includes the right to instruction in sports, drama, or whatever other extra-curricular items are offered via the public schools. Honestly, I have taught numerous home-schooled children and have found them to be well-educated, smart, mannerly and respectful, and intentional about beooming responsible adults and citizens. If I were the public school administrators, I would be very pleased to have those young people on a team so that they could influence the characters of their teammates! Crux of the matter: the taxes are paid; the right is theirs to claim. (By the way, the home-schoolers' parents still have to pay for travel and uniform expenses just like the rest of the players. . .and then there are those fast-food-restaurant, post-game "hawg feedings" too! That's enough to bankrupt anyone!)

By: BigPapa on 6/13/11 at 9:11

Just because you "pay taxes" doesnt mean public facilities are your personal playground. I pay taxes, maybe I'll go ride around on a fire truck, I pay taxes maybe I can get a pistol from Metro PD and go for some target practice, I pay taxes,... Just a silly excuse that means nothing.
The thing is, this opens up a huge hole for recruiting and misuse of players. I wont even get into whether they should be allowed to opt out of school yet play sports. Just the fact that parents will "home school" their kids and send them to X school to play bball vs their zoned school. The idea is just a bad one.
You either go to that school or you dont. If you are home schooled- you dont.

By: parnell3rd on 6/13/11 at 9:22

Really! Let them play! Why? Right thing to do.
Did public school teach everyone to call people "socially retarded" because they don't share your views?
And do you really think high school athelets are not recruited by other schools?
"Why can't we all get along" Rodney King
Probly because we are different

By: BigPapa on 6/13/11 at 9:33

Maybe we should no longer have sports tied to the school at all? We should move to the club system like they have in Europe. Baseball, softball, soccer, and aau bball are practicly there.. just move the rest of the sports that way. Afterall, we've determined that the kids playing really arent walking the halls of the school any way.

By: girliegirl on 6/13/11 at 9:39

Friendship Christian in Mt. Juliet allows homeschooled kids to play on their football team. Saw that last year in person.

By: Radix on 6/13/11 at 11:08

Pretty funny, people like gdiafante and moonglow want to tax you for school, then not let you play sports if you opt out of the public school classroom mess. How very socialist. I know of several other states, blue states even, that already allow this. Glad Tennessee is trying to catch up despite some of the backward thinking shown here.

By: cookeville on 6/13/11 at 11:34

They pay their school taxes, even though they their kids do not attend. The taxpayers pay for the athletic programs. Therefore, they are entitled to participate.

By: trtay2004 on 6/13/11 at 11:36

I hear a lot of comments about the parents paying taxes and therefore should be able to send their kids. What about those of us that do not have kids and still pay taxes? What do we get?

By: BigPapa on 6/13/11 at 12:08

The "they pay taxes" is moot. It's a false argument. Should they send their kids to the cafateria and get a school lunch too? How about a desk? Maybe grab and overhead projector and a computer too while they'r there.. afterall "they paid taxes."

By: Radix on 6/13/11 at 1:30

Big Papa, your argument makes no sense at all. We aren't talking about ownership, we are talking about participation. The desks belong to the schools whether you attend or not. Maybe I can reframe the question for you. Should a kid who is otherwise entitled to attend school, be banned from sports just because he/she has other arrangements for the classroom portion of their education?

trtay2004, What do you get for you taxes? A city full of educated people... (in theory). So are you getting your money's worth from our schools? Maybe we should introduce some competition in the system and see if it improves like everywhere else that has tried it.

By: The Blaster on 6/13/11 at 1:46

Besides, they have made it so hard for the home school kids to play, it is like saying. Ok, you can play but you have to jump through 500 hoops to do it.

Moonglow1 - Have what both ways? It is a reduction in your taxes for them to school their children at home.
It is America, land of the free. This is a good thing. It isn't like asking for more money. If I read correctly they will have to pay a fee for their children to play.
It isn't cherry picking, that's like saying if you don't have a driver's license and tags you can't walk on the road.
We all pay taxes for a lot of things we don't use.
treehugger7 - They can do in 4 hours what it takes the public schools 6 hours to do, because it is more focused. Also, they don't have to switch classrooms and deal with all those distractions of taking roll. Also, that is the minimum they must do. Most do more than that.
BigPap - really, you think the homeschool kids are going to be worse than what already happens? No way. If they were that great they'd already be getting pulled in by those private schools. Many of these kids are from homes that can't afford private school. It isn't always that public school isn't good enough. It is a matter of faith or possibly a minor learning disability that is better handled 1-on-1. Really BigPapa some of your comments make it hard to take you seriously.
Parnell3rd - great comment.

The real injustice is forcing parents, through taxing, to pay for schools that are failing so badly that they have to educate their kids at home. Basically paying for it twice.

The question is, we get to pick and chose most of our other public services, why can't we pick if we want to go to school, but still play the sports. Remember, they are already paying for it. Why can't they use it. Plus, they are going to be asked to pay a fee to play on top of it. Talk about (public schools in this case) getting your cake and eating it too.

Glad Tennessee is trying to catch up, even if it is through 500 hoops and additional costs.

By: BigPapa on 6/13/11 at 2:02

I have to go back to the idea that once you opt out of public school you shouldnt be able to decide to show up with it's time to play ball. Athletics arent a "right" and they should reserved for those that actually attend the school, otherwise just make it a club sport open to anyone.

By: gdiafante on 6/13/11 at 2:09

Well said, Papa.

"people like gdiafante and moonglow want to tax you for school, then not let you play sports if you opt out of the public school classroom mess."

Um...where did I say I wanted to tax anyone? Do I even have that power? If I did, I'd tax the stupidity of your statements and that would cure any budget problems.

If public education is such a mess, why in the hell is everyone focusing on sports? Oh yeah, because the parents think little Johnny might be able to cash in on a scholarship, not on how smart he is, but how fast he runs.

Eliminate organized school sports. Promote debate, science fairs, etc. Problems solved.

By: The Blaster on 6/13/11 at 2:33

Gdiafante, do you realize that most (like 90%) of all kids that play high school sports don't get a scholarship? Do you realize that home school kids are already doing this for other activities, just not sports. Some kids take some classes and not others. Some kids play in the band, but don't go to classes? Did you know that home school kids are participating in drama and other activities at public schools already and not taking classes.

The proverbial horse is already out of the barn. It was simply an eligibility issue that the TSSAA had to iron out. It took them a miniscule 12 years to figure it out, meanwhile other states have been doing this for more than a decade - longer than Tennessee has been "studying" the idea.

By: Radix on 6/13/11 at 2:44

@gdiafante I'm assuming you support taxes to pay for public education, right? Yet you want to ban the home school kids from what they're entitled to and already paid for? I highly doubt you would support a tax rebate to the families you are trying to prevent from participating, right? Can't have it both ways genius.

@Papa said: "I have to go back to the idea that once you opt out of public school you shouldnt be able to decide to show up with it's time to play ball."

Why not?

@Papa said: "Athletics arent a "right" and they should reserved for those that actually attend the school..."

Education (of which athletics are a part) are an obligation of the government when they tax people to pay for them. You seem to want to deny people what their taxes have already paid for just because they make other (government approved) arrangements for certain aspects of it? You should be happy when people opt out of the classroom. More resources for other kids, right? Or maybe you just want to control everything. So much for freedom.

By: Radix on 6/13/11 at 3:01

@gdiafante said: "Um...where did I say I wanted to tax anyone? Do I even have that power? If I did, I'd tax the stupidity of your statements and that would cure any budget problems."

You do realize that our taxes are what pays for public education, right? Including athletics?

By: MamaD on 6/14/11 at 5:58

As a public school educator for 29 years, as a parent who has had three children attend and grad. from public schools, and as a g/parent who has two g/children in public schools, I have absolutely NO problem with this idea. We have students whose parents pay very little or nothing to support public schools. Should their children not be allowed to attend public schools? After all, their parents are taking advantage of public ed., of which they are paying little or nothing to support. Home school parents who pay property taxes are helping to educate our children. They also have to buy their own books, etc. and pay a fee to get under an authorized home school education organization's umbrella. I have known many children who have been home schooled, and they are not socially deficient. Over all, I have found them to be more respectful, etc., and take their education more seriously than many public ed. children. It would be wonderful for ALL people to think about our children first and foremost and stop being so petty.

By: patl111 on 1/19/12 at 6:48

Let me get this straight, because you have religious objections with public school curriculum or because your district's performance is poor, you should not be allowed to participate in athletics at that school?

It amazes me how people want to ostracize families who sacrifice to ensure that their kids are educated in the manner the parent sees fit.(See Navy above "I think if they are to good to go to a public school. They are to good to play sports with all the normal kids."). Normal Kids? REALLY? When did this country decide that the government knows best for all aspects of our lives. Instead of demeaning homeschooling families, we should actually thank them. Homeschooling reduces the burden on overloaded public schools, reduces the student to teacher ratio, and reduces the infrastructure requirements for the school district. Big Papa should actually be thanking homeschooling families for increasing the assets available to teach other kids who attend the public school. Lots of families would love to homeschool, unfortunately not everyone can afford to have one parent not provide income to support the family. We should applaud their efforts and sacrifice.

Let them play sports if they can meet the requirements and if they are talented enough to make the team.