The Commonwealth of Virginia is once again considering a bill that would allow school districts to let homeschoolers try out for public school sports teams.
Known as the "Tim Tebow" bill, House Bill 1442 was introduced by Republican Delegate Rob Bell of the 58th District and was passed by the House of Delegates. It will be sent to the State Senate.
"No public school shall become a member of any organization or entity whose purpose is to regulate or govern interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who … is receiving home instruction," reads HB 1442 in part.
Restrictions for participating homeschoolers would apply, including prospective homeschooled students having to provide evidence of academic achievement, being restricted to sports programs within their local school district, needing to fulfill immunization requirements, and other regulations.
Scott A. Woodruff, Esq., senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, told The Christian Post that he felt HB 1442 fit well among efforts to expand opportunities for homeschoolers.
"It fits solidly within the national trend to make more public school offerings available to homeschool students," said Woodruff.
"Twenty-seven states allow homeschoolers to try out for sports either as a matter of right or if their local school system approves. Twenty-three states don't allow homeschool students to play sports at all, or under restrictions that exclude nearly all families."
While stating that HSLDA was neutral on the bill, Woodruff told CP that the bill "would help alleviate several types of unfairness that already exist."
"Homeschool parents pay for public school programs with their tax dollars. Fairness tells us they should have access to what they pay for," said Woodruff.
"Homeschoolers in Virginia already have access to public school classes, with the school's approval. It's sensible to extend that policy to sports."
HB 1442 is named after NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who while being homeschooled in Florida was nevertheless allowed to take part in a public high school football program.
This is not the first time that the Virginia General Assembly has mulled over the possible inclusion of homeschooled students in public school sports programs.
Last March, the "Tim Tebow" bill was brought before the Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health as House Bill 947. It was defeated in Committee by a vote of 8 nays to 7 yeas.
Bob Cook, opinion contributor for Forbes Magazine, wrote a column critical of the legislation, saying there were valid reasons for the Virginia High School League to ban homeschooled participants.
"State associations, such as Virginia's, have had bans because of worries regarding an inability to check academic status, and that homeschoolers could jump from school to school for athletic purposes," wrote Cook.
Since its resuscitation, politicians and education organizations have been critical of the bill, believing that it lacked academic accountability for homeschooled students and was unfair to students enrolled at public schools.
John Torre, Public Information Officer for Fairfax County Public Schools, provided The Christian Post with a statement regarding the proposed legislation.
"The Fairfax County School Board opposes mandates to require local school boards to allow students who are not currently enrolled full time in a public school in their locality to participate in student athletics and activities," said Torre.
Amy Wilson, director of Government Affairs for The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, told The Christian Post that HB 1442 would allow for local school districts and coaches to choose whether or not to recruit homeschoolers to their teams.
"A large suburban area like Fairfax County may have overcrowded programs already and choose not to include homeschoolers, while a rural county might welcome homeschoolers to round out programs with few participants," said Wilson.
"Ultimately, coaches will still make the decisions at tryouts, and local school boards will have the option to limit the participation of homeschoolers if local communities in Virginia feel that is the right approach for them."