Governor McAuliffe: Sign House Bill 1578

For Immediate Release: Access to public school athletics programs provides homeschooled students with substantial benefits

Canton, Ma. 02/17/2017—Homeschooled students in Virginia have long been barred from participating in public school athletics programs governed by the Virginia High School League, but that may finally be changing—if Gov. Terry McAuliffe does not veto House Bill 1578 like he did similar legislation last year. HB 1578 was passed by the Virginia Senate on Monday after clearing the Virginia General Assembly late last month. “We urge Gov. McAuliffe to sign HB 1578,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. “It is well documented that access to public school athletics programs benefits homeschooled students without creating problems for either public schools or other students.”

HB 1578 is identical to both last year’s Senate Bill 612 and House Bill 131 and the previous year’s House Bill 1620; this legislation cleared both houses of the Virginia legislature only to be vetoed twice by Gov. McAuliffe. The governor has argued that the legislation would create inequality because homeschooled athletes would not have to meet the same academic standards as public schooled athletes. However, the legislation requires homeschooled athletes to have “demonstrated evidence of progress in compliance” with the state’s homeschool law, which includes an academic assessment requirement, “for at least two consecutive academic years” in order to participate. “Legislation like HB 1578 often faces opposition from individuals worried that allowing homeschooled students to participate would take opportunities away from other students,” said Coleman. However, the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers conducted a 2012 survey of state athletics associations which found that granting homeschooled students access to public school athletics has not caused problems in those states that have already done so. “Research suggests that homeschooled students tend to gravitate toward activities without a limit on participants, such as cross country running or tennis, so these critics’ fears seem to be unfounded,” said Coleman.

Meanwhile, studies show that participation in public school athletics programs greatly benefits homeschooled students. In October 2016, CRHE conducted a survey of 150 homeschool graduates’ athletics experiences. The participants overwhelmingly believed that athletic participation was beneficial to homeschooled students (87%) and supported making public school athletics available to homeschooled students (80%). Ruth Anderson, a survey participant who was homeschooled in Virginia, noted that in many cases “the public system is either the only choice or the best choice for an athletic program.” Survey respondents who participated in public school athletics viewed their experiences positively; and many respondents, especially those whose educational and social experiences with homeschooling were more negative, believed participation in public school athletics would have improved their homeschool experience.

Anna Rose, a survey participant who was homeschooled in Virginia, supports opening public school athletics programs to homeschooled students: “I would have gotten exposure to the outside world if I’d paticipated in a public school athletics program,” Anna Rose explained. “I might have even come in contact with mandatory reporters or teaching that would have informed me about the ongoing abuse in my family.” Access to public school athletics programs provides concrete benefits for homeschooled students, especially those in rural areas or those with unstable home environments.

A full thirty states grant homeschooled students access to public school athletics programs, putting Virginia in the minority. “The evidence is clear that granting homeschooled children access to public school athletics improves homeschool outcomes,” said Coleman. “Governor McAuliffe: It’s time to let these children play.”

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.

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