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Homeschoolers And Sports: Who Should Play?

While some districts move forward with planning policies, others taking a wait-and-see approach

When the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association announced in November that it had changed its longstanding policy that barred homeschooled students from participating on public school sports teams, it provoked a number of questions and concerns, and even some negative outcry.

In the two months since, school districts have begun to look at the issue to varying degrees. Some, such as the Brick Township School District, have moved quickly to put at least preliminary guidelines in place. Others are taking a slower approach.

Steven Timko, executive director of the NJSIAA, says the policy change by the association was a necessary one, needed to eliminate a conflict between the NJSIAA’s policies and those of the state Department of Education.

“We had a situation where, on the books, the Department of Education said that homeschooled students could participate,” Timko said. “Our rule conflicted with that, so we had to adjust it.”

Timko said the NJSIAA was advised of the conflict in September, and it had to be addressed quickly. But he noted that the association communicated with the various conferences around the state and the athletic directors association to keep its 400-plus member schools informed.

“It was out there,” Timko said, responding to criticisms that the change was dropped on the schools with little notice.

The NJSIAA policy and that of the Department of Education as well, however, do not mandate that districts allow homeschooled students to participate in high school athletics.

“The NJSIAA Executive Committee amended a clarification to the NJSIAA bylaws to make it clear a Board of Education could, at its discretion, allow a homeschooler to compete in interscholastic sports, provided both the school and the homeschooled student complied with newly-adopted NJSIAA guidelines,” a statement issued in November said.

Those guidelines, which are in a PDF posted with this story and can be found on the NJSIAA website, say a homeschooled student can participate so long as he or she lives in the district where they are seeking to play, get permission from the principal and prove academic equivalency. The guidelines also say students can’t use the homeschooling path to avoid a situation where they would be academically ineligible.

Timko said only a handful of schools across the state have contacted the NJSIAA so far regarding the change, seeking guidance on enacting a policy in their districts.

In New Jersey, more than 38,000 school-age children out of roughly 1.5 million are being schooled at home, according to estimates by the website Homeschooling A2Z, which extrapolated data from census reports and state data reports to come up with approximate numbers of homeschoolers for every state. The site estimates that nearly 1.4 millions students are homeschooled nationwide.

What is unclear is how many of those homeschooled New Jersey students are of high school age, because the number is just an estimate; the New Jersey Department of Education does not require registration of homeschooled students. New Jersey is one of 10 states that do not require registration, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association; every other state in the nation requires varying levels of notification of homeschooling and proof that a student is receiving an equivalent education at home.

Nationwide, estimates are that approximately 2.9 percent of all school-age children are homeschooled. While requirements vary from state to state, most have requirements for registration that allow them to collect more exact numbers on homeschooled students. And while some states do not permit homeschooled students to participate in interscholastic athletics through public schools – New York among them – a growing number allow it, under varying circumstances, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.

“We have had some districts say they absolutely will not accept homeschooled students,” Timko said, declining to identify which districts have chosen that path.

The issue of academic equivalency – and proving it – is the crux of the debate over implementing policies in New Jersey.

The Brick school district has been among the first to enact a policy to determine a homeschooled student’s academic equivalency, in response to a student who sought to play ice hockey at Brick Memorial.

It was not without debate, however.

"I do not want to jeopardize any of the other students if they come back and say, 'Look, this is not sufficient,'" Brick Board of Education member Susan Suter said at a school board meeting in December, where the district approved accepting homeschooled students into interscholastic sports.

The district since has settled on a temporary policy of requiring any homeschooled student who wants to play a varsity sport at the district’s two high schools to submit a portfolio of the student’s work and have the student take tests proving proficiency equivalent to public school students in English, math, science and world languages, according to Brick Patch reports. A more permanent approach will be developed for the 2012-13 school year, the district has said.

Other districts are taking a slower approach.

The Freehold Regional School District, which includes Howell, has policies on its books that state it "is not required to provide any of the entitlements or privileges of pupils enrolled in the school district unless specifically provided in the federal special education law," according to the policy found here. An accompanying set of regulations defines how the district approaches it if a homeschooled student seeks to enter the public schools as a student, here.

The district's setup, which has different high schools being home to different academic concentrations, and students within the district being able to attend a high school that isn’t in their hometown as a result – creates an added wrinkle to the issue.

The NJSIAA guidelines say a homeschooled student must prove to the district that he or she lives within the district where the sports eligibility request is being made. “In school districts that serve more than one town, a student must be assigned to the school of record in the same manner as other students,” the guidelines state.

The Toms River School District also is looking into the policy, district spokeswoman Tammy Millar said.

“Currently our homeschooled students are not eligible for extra services and this includes athletic eligibility,” Millar said via email. “We are aware of the recent newly-adopted NJSIAA Suggested NJ Home Schooler Guidelines and are in the process of reviewing the guidelines to determine what is best for our district.”

Other districts have taken a unique approach.

Homeschooled students who live in the Barnegat School District have been permitted to participate in middle school athletics for the last five years, athletic director John Germano said.

“There have been several students who have participated at the middle school level,” he said. “Barnegat has always taken a kid-first approach. If there’s something we can offer a kid (through the schools) then we should.”

He said the district has a committee formulating academic equivalency standards and while he declined to say what types of things are being considered in those discussions, he said the bottom line is the district is willing to offer the opportunity.

“As long as the students can meet academic requirements, they should be allowed to participate,” he said. “These are taxpayers, too.”

At Central Regional High School – the only designated “choice school” in the Shore Conference – there have not been any requests as of yet for homeschooled students to participate in athletics. Choice schools are allowed to accept students from any town, according to the state Department of Education.

Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides said the district does have guidelines in place for homeschooled students who decide to return to the public school system for their education, and suggested they might be a starting point for homeschooled students in the district who might wish to play sports.

“We have Odyssey and Study Island (computerized programs that the district’s students use to enhance their math and language arts skills) and they have diagnostic tools,” Parlapanides said. “They can help us determine whether the homeschooled student is at grade level. But I’d have to rely on my guidance director” to help the district determine a student’s academic equivalency, he said.

That said, he said the district would want to be certain that its standards were sufficient.

“We wouldn’t want an ineligible athlete to negatively impact any team,” Parlapanides said.

Jennifer Arnold-Delgado January 27, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Process of elimination - vs. elemental inclusion - Isn't public education based on inclusion ? Or is it really a systematic classification center - which is publicly funded ?
Matthew Roberts March 08, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I am a homeschooled athlete who has played with the same kids on Little League baseball all along. . I am a good freshman aged pitcher and the other players and coaches would like to have me play for the team. . Across the country, 1.5 million children are currently being educated at home. This is saving taxpayers anywhere between $4 to $10 billion dollars annually, by not sending their kids to free public schools. My parents have spent a lot of time and money on my education along with paying state taxes to our town for the last fourteen years. It would be good for the town, the team and my brother and I if they would let us play. We are homeschooled, however we are just ordinary kids. We take classes, do Algebra, Biology, dissections, write lab reports, take history, Spanish, Writing and Literature, Art, health, physical education and so on, we take tests, write papers, get good grades and not as good when we don't study. We won't curse, smoke and will be respectful and obedient to our coaches. We are dedicated athletes and will show up and play hard for our team...what’s not to like? We are Americans exercising our freedom of choice. We choose homeschooling however we can’t fund a football team. We save the taxpayers’ money and pay taxes…Let us Play for our high schools. Give us a chance to try out.
Jennifer Arnold-Delgado March 08, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Matthew - you state your case really well, what a clear explanation of the situation - an issue is a problem that wont go away, a situation is a state of existence based on your surroundings, a solution is a blend of realities that creates a new state of being. You are writing about a solution - I like what you wrote. - Jennifer Arnold
Matthew Roberts March 09, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Thanks. I am hoping for the solution. My coaches have gone to bat for us, infact recruited us to the teams. I feel a true connection to the guys on the team as we have played together for years. Even though the rules did not allow me to practice with the team, I helped them run drills at practice. I can play baseball outside of high school. Football is an issue for my brother. Any coach who takes a look at him will want him for their team, he's a big guy and was starter on an undefeated youth varsity football team. Our town is small and we need all the good players we can get. I am posting as I have been trying to find out if any town has allowed homeschoolers to play. My grandma lives in Brick. Way to go Brick! As far as I can find you are the first district to accept a high school homeschooler.
LVMom July 13, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I'm late to this... as for homeschool statistics.. where my daughter takes her online AP classes they AVERAGE 70% 4 and 5s... any districts in NJ claim that? -- As for sports etc... we PAY taxes, and PAY for educating our kids... would be nice to be included in stuff... -- As for reality... why tell you kids "toe the line or we will segregate you and treat you like an outsider."? No one ever created anything by "toeing the line"! Great minds need to explore, and search. Let your children know there are many paths to the same goal, LIFE... it's about the JOURNEY and whom we MEET on the way.

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