‘Tebow Bill’ Strikes Out In Senate
Home-School Access Measure Dies In Panel
Posted: February 15, 2013
HARRISONBURG — A Senate panel again informed home-schooled students on Thursday that they can only be spectators at public school events.
For the second year in a row, the Senate Education and Health Committee killed a bill that would open public school activities to home-schooled students. The legislation would prohibit school divisions from joining an organization that bans those students from competition.
The Virginia High School League, the governing body for interscholastic activities in the state, does not grant home-schoolers permission to compete.
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, has introduced the bill since 2010. It passed the House of Delegates for the first time last year, but died in the Senate committee, falling a vote short.
The vote Thursday was the same 8-7 decision against the bill as last year. All seven Democrats on the committee voted against it, while Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake, joined them.
Blevins is a retired educator.
“I am very disappointed that the bill failed by one vote,” said Bell, who represents the Elkton area of Rockingham County. “I think it is a matter of simple fairness that a home-schooler who is following the rules and passing his annual assessment should be allowed to try out at his local high school.”
He also knew that with the same committee configuration as last year, someone’s mind had to be changed. That didn’t happen.
“I think they have a misconception of what home-schooling in 2013 is,” said Bell, noting that one senator questioned whether home-schoolers would be bullied on public teams. “They are no longer a group that is particularly different.”
Messages for Blevins and a spokesman for Senate Democrats were not returned Thursday afternoon.
Bell’s measure is known as the “Tebow bill” after NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, a home-schooled student who rose to stardom while competing in Florida’s public schools.
Supporters say parents of home-schoolers pay taxes and should have access to public property, such as a football field. Opponents argue that parents cannot pick and choose what aspect of the public school system to use.
Yet the fundamental issue is that of fairness: Should a home-schooled student get the chance to take a roster spot from a public school child?
Critics, which include the VHSL and Harrisonburg and Rockingham County school leaders, say home-schoolers are not held to the same standards as public students, for both grading and attendance.
The bill says home-schoolers must demonstrate academic progress, per home-school requirements, for at least two consecutive academic years before participating. Also, “reasonable” fees may be charged on the home-schooled student, it says.
Broadway Boys Wait
More than 200 families home-school their children in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, according to parents. It’s unclear how many of those students would be serious contenders to take roster spots from public students on sports teams.
Kirk and Tamara Rygol of Broadway home-school their children, including sons Sam, 12, Hunter, 11, and Clayton, 7.
“I believe that as children are growing, they need the support and interest of their parents,” Tamara Rygol said. “As they’re growing, they are very influenced, and I want to be a part of that influence as much as possible.”
This academic year, the family went against its longstanding preference and enrolled Kirk Jr., 13, in the eighth grade at J. Frank Hillyard Middle School. That enabled him to play freshman football for Broadway High School in the fall.
“He has been doing well. He likes his teachers. He likes his friends,” Tamara Rygol said. “He hasn’t been deprived socially [as a home-schooler].”
But it’s still not the setup the home-school parents desire.
Bridgewater resident John Doughty, who home-schools his children, sees the VHSL as the barrier from getting home-schoolers to play public sports, calling it a “monopoly that needs to be broken up.”
VHSL Executive Director Ken Tilley said the notion that the organization is against home-schoolers is “totally absurd.” Its job is to govern public school activities, he said, and local school boards join it with that understanding.
“It’s easy to be on the sidelines and say, ‘That’s a monopoly,’” Tilley said. “It’s what the schools have decided that’s best for them.”
Without VHSL, the state could have 132 school divisions with 132 sets of rules, he said.
“[We’re] designed to provide equity so that everybody is playing by the same standards,” Tilley said. “Every state functions that way.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org