Local public school districts must develop a policy if they choose to allow home-schooled students to participate in district sports, according to the state scholastic sports governing body.
On Nov. 9, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association made an about-face on a previous, long-standing policy that disallowed homeschooled students from participating in scholastic sports programs run out of their home districts.
However, the choice rests with the local district. They are not mandated to allow home-schooled students to participate but must develop guidelines for their participation if they do.
Brick schools Superintendent Walter Hrycenko said the decision has left many school district leaders scrambling to formulate policies consistent with the NJSIAA decision before the winter sports season begins in early December.
"According to the NJSIAA, you can't just say, 'Today, everybody can play,' " Hrycenko said. "We have to develop criteria to evaluate."
The NJSIAA will allow homeschooled students to participate in district athletic programs provided that they meet nine criteria, mostly having to do with a student's academic eligibility to play. The local school board must also approve participation, and the building principal from where the sports program originates must also be notified.
Parents of homeschooled students who want to participate in sports must also demonstrate their child's "academic equivalency" to others in the same age and grade level, according to Brick school board member Leonard Cuppari, who had NJSIAA with him at a recent board meeting.
Developing the formula by which academic equivalency can be judged will most likely prove to be the most difficult task in the entire matter, Hrycenko said.
"It's easy to verify what's being done in the school," he said. "It's not easy to verify what's being done in home school."
Hrycenko said there is no official state curriculum, standardized tests or grading system that parents of homeschooled students must adhere to. In situations where a homeschooled student returns to public school, they are usually given a test by district officials and placed in an appropriate grade level, according to Brick Assistant Superintendent Patricia Lorusso.
"What method of testing, and what standard, do we have to give that information to the athletic director so he can make a decision?" asked Brick School Board President Sharon Kight at the board's Nov. 17 meeting, when the matter was discussed.
"That's the issue that everybody is trying to deal with right now, and the fact that the decision came out on Nov. 9 is what's creating the havoc," Hrycenko replied.
Board member Larry Reid said the board should do its part in approving students to play as soon as possible, so when administrators develop a method of approving students to play, they can begin participation as soon as they are confirmed to be eligible.
"My personal feeling is that, if the students are the number one top priority, we should approve that now and work out the details later," Reid said.