Virginia: HB 63 and Sports Access

Virginia homeschoolers are barred from participation in public school sports leagues by the Virginia High School League’s requirement that each student athlete be “a regular bona fide student in good standing of the school which he/she represents.” HB 63, a bill before the 2014 Virginia General Assembly, would change this. As advocates for homeschooled students, we are passionate about expanding homeschool sports access. HB 63, which you can read in full here, has our support.

Currently, 29 states offer homeschooled students full or partial access to public school sports leagues. In the remaining 21 states (Virginia included), high school athletic association eligibility requirements bar homeschooled students from participating in public school sports leagues. Fortunately, homeschool sports access has increased in recent years. 6 states that had previously prohibited or severely limited access revised their laws or policies in 2012 and 2013 alone. Click here for CRHE’s analysis of homeschool sports access laws.

HB 63 would open up opportunities for homeschooled students to participate in healthy athletic and social extracurricular activities. We support homeschool access to public school extracurriculars because options for homeschooled children that include group athletic and social activity encourage healthy child development and wellbeing. Further, we believe that a positive and cooperative relationship between public schools and homeschool families is in the best interests of the child, the parents, and the school; such a relationship can in some cases bring homeschooled children in negative home environments into contact with mandatory reporters or provide role models and positive influences they might not otherwise have had. In states and districts where sports participation is permitted, the response has often been positive.

While elementary aged Virginia homeschool students have access to a variety of community sports leagues, the competitive athletic options available to high school level homeschooled students are often severely limited. We do not believe families should be forced to choose between homeschooling and competitive sports participation. Some children’s best interests may be best served by both homeschooling and participation in public school sports leagues.

Common objections to sports access have to do with academic requirements, funding, and abuse of the law. HB 63 addresses all three of these concerns. First, participation is limited to any student who “has demonstrated evidence of progress [pursuant to the state’s homeschool law] for at least two consecutive academic years immediately preceding the academic year during which the student seeks to participate.” This ensures that public school athletes struggling with academic requirements don’t switch to homeschooling and immediately resume athletic participation, and it also creates an academic standard for homeschooled students. HB 63 also limits sports participation to the homeschooled student’s district of residence and states that homeschool athletes will be “subject to all policies governing such participation that the local school board may establish.” Finally, HB 63 addresses funding, stating that homeschool athletes may be charged “reasonable fees” to “cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs.”

CRHE supports efforts to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school curricular and extracurricular activities, including sports, and is hopeful that this legislation, and other legislation like it, will pass. We have only one caveat: HB 63 does not cover students homeschooled under the state’s religious exemption. We believe that all homeschooled students, regardless of which option they are homeschooled under, should have access to extracurricular activities, including sports, at their local public schools.

For more information on HB 63, see The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers’ Homeschoolers’ Sports Access page, which includes frequently asked questions, an explanation of how HB 63 will work in practice, and a collection of stories from Virginia homeschool families who hope to gain access to public school sports leagues.

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