A bill that passed the Georgia Senate and now must pass the state House would allow home-schooled students to play on public school athletic teams. 
Photo: AJC file
Photo: AJC file

Opinion: Allow home-schooled students to play on public school teams

Senate Bill 163 would enable home-schooled students to participate in any activities at their local public schools that are under the auspices of the Georgia High School Association

That includes all competitive sports, but also some music, arts and theater activities.

When Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White, presented his “Tim Tebow Act” to a Senate committee two weeks ago, Cole Muzio sat beside him and fleshed out the details. Muzio is president of the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia, a Christian conservative organization and a public policy partner of Focus on the Family.  

SB 163 is named for Tebow, a home-schooled Florida athlete who played football at his local public school and earned a Heisman Trophy in college.

In a guest column today, Muzio contends the Tebow bill is needed in Georgia, and  my concerns lack merit.

Among those concerns: The bill could muddy academic eligibility rules. A public school athlete at risk of being deemed academically ineligible could become home-schooled, which then only requires parental verification of grades.

The bill states: 

The student's parent provides an affidavit that the student is receiving a passing grade in each course taught, is maintaining a satisfactory progress toward advancement, and meets the requirements for participation. The local board of education may not question the accuracy or validity of the statement or request additional information.

Muzio disputes this would ever occur, but parents go to incredible lengths to advance their child’s sports career, especially if they believe their kid could play college or pro.

In a concession to Republican lawmakers also concerned with potential eligibility abuses, the bill now states that a student who leaves public school for home schooling be “ineligible for participation in extracurricular and interscholastic activities for 12 months.” The original bill required only six months.

A home-schooling parent made this comment on the Tebow bill on my AJC Get Schooled Facebook page: 

This law exists in states with much more oversight than Georgia has. That's why it works in those states. They are reporting to someone, and they have to turn in things like portfolios. 

Even as a homeschooler, I'm uncomfortable with the lack of accountability in Georgia, and I have some concerns about how this law would work in a state with no real record keeping requirements beyond a self-written report that we don't turn in to anyone and standardized test scores we keep at home and also never turn in. In Georgia, for better and worse, no one even checks on us. There is zero oversight. 

With the background, here is Muzio’s guest column:

By Cole Muzio

Imagine being a parent that understands two competing truths about your child: 1) that homeschooling – though it will be a great personal sacrifice – is the best academic option to meet your child’s unique needs and 2) that the extracurricular activities provided by our local public schools – and paid for by your tax dollars – are an instrumental component for your child’s development.

Right now, Georgia law mandates that parents make a choice – that one component of the best opportunity for their child be sacrificed. At least 32 states around the country have realized that imposing this choice on families runs counter to the interests of children, and with Senate Bill 163, Georgia can join the growing movement of states committed to putting students first.

In a recent column, AJC education writer Maureen Downey decried the idea that students should be able to choose the options that best suit their needs and proffers several false arguments against SB 163, such as the notion that we do not allow adults to use facilities and rent library books at local schools (which, by the way, in some cases they can).

Opening opportunities to be able to select activities that will help our children grow and thrive is exactly what education should be about. Remember, the money we spend on education is designed to help our maturing students develop into productive adults and not merely to funnel kids into the public school system.

Downey then provides a litany of false assumptions including: some clubs are funded through bake sales (SB 163 requires students comply with all the requirements for participation and follow all oral and written instructions – which could include participating in bake sales, which, by the way, home-school families would likely prove to be quite an asset in), teachers wouldn’t want to volunteer their time to assist with kids outside the school (the vast majority of students would be attendees of the school and those from outside the school provide the teacher with more opportunity to impact new students), and the challenges of communication (hardly a concern in today’s digital age where communication is as easy as adding one more phone number or email address).

Finally, she attacks the credibility of homeschool parents -– already subject to numerous state regulations and testing requirements -– as somehow less trustworthy than the public school system, which has its own set of problems. Try to look a homeschool parent in the eye -– one who is giving up time, money, and career opportunities to teach their child full-time -– and tell them they are doing so only to make their child eligible for sports.

In constructing SB 163, we made every effort to avoid the perceptions that this creates a recruiting loophole by requiring that students can only participate at the school where they reside, that this creates a life-boat for failing students by adding in a 12-month waiting period for those who go from public school to homeschooling, and that students would not be subject to the same rules and discipline of other students which is affirmatively addressed at several points in the bill.

This bill creates an opportunity for the few thousand students across Georgia. For some, this could mean the opportunity to play sports at a high level and, perhaps, be the “next Tim Tebow” going on to great things in athletics. For others, this could mean earning a small scholarship meeting the needs that will allow the student to further their education. 

A larger number will learn and explore an area of passion; develop memories; and gain friendships by participating in extracurriculars that can only be provided in the public school environment funded by their tax dollars.

By removing a barrier now preventing families from making the best decisions for their student, Georgia can send a signal that we truly care to put our children first -– opening up the door for more parents to make a decision they feel will benefit their kid.

This legislation has the ability to transform lives of students. Many of us who participated in extracurricular activities growing up can point to profoundly positive effects that participation played in our development -– whether it helped us get into college, developed a skill, led to increased maturity, or allowed us to meet a friend or even a future spouse. 

Opening up this door to the taxpaying, hardworking homeschooling community -– a group that simply seeks to meet the individual needs of their children -– is the right thing to do. 

It’s time for Georgia to end an era of discrimination that treats this community like second-class citizens by barring them from the precious experience of participation solely because they chose a different academic path. It’s time to pass SB 163 and bring our state in line with the rest of the country.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.