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Home school, public sports

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Legislator prefiles bill to allow home-schooled children to join public school teams

By Nick Schrager

Next year, both private and home-schooled children may be able to sink their teeth into public school athletics. That is, if the Kentucky legislature thinks it’s a good idea. 

Marion County native and State Rep. Stan Lee (R) of Lexington, prefiled the “Tim Tebow” bill on Aug. 5. The bill, named after NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, reads that it would allow children in non-public schools, including home-schooled children, to participate in public school interscholastic extracurricular activities.

“Parents have the legal option of home schooling their children in this state, but why does Kentucky not allow these same parents the option of allowing their children to play sports for their local public middle and high school?” Lee said in a press release. “Tim Tebow is a fine example of how combining home school and public school athletics help shape and mold our children into the leaders of tomorrow. We in Kentucky should want the same for students who are home schooled, which is why I filed this bill.”

Though the bill makes the children eligible to participate in the athletic activities, it does not exempt them from the status quo of children who are enrolled in public schools. In other words, they are required to pay the same fees and be upheld to the same academic, behavioral and physical requirements of public school students. 

The bill also reads that nonpublic school children must also adhere to the same responsibilities and code of conduct standards. 

They would further be required to register with the public school with intent to participate in the activity. The bill prevents schools from discriminating against students eligible to participate under the guidelines during the selection of team members. Students would have to register before the semester of their activity starts.

On top of this, nonpublic school students would have to comply with the same immunization, insurance, age and semester eligibility requirements.

Furthermore, it requires them to arrange transportation to events through their parent, guardian or themselves, though they may use the public school transportation provided that does not give the school additional expenses. 

Finally, the bill reads a public school or team shall not be impeded from competing with another public school solely because the team includes students eligible under the bill. 

After several exchanged emails in attempts to get a comment from the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, Commissioner Julian Tackett released a comment about the bill on khsaa.org.

“As it is currently drafted, the bill would fundamentally alter high school athletics in the state, as it would allow all nonpublic school student-athletes to attend a nonpublic school and yet compete for public schools at their discretion, if the school in which they are attending (including home school) didn’t offer a specific extracurricular activity,” Tackett wrote in the release.

He added that this bill differs from past ones because it offers a wide opportunity for any nonpublic school student to participate in public school based sports. 

As an example, the release reads, a student at Sayre (a private high school in Lexington) would be able to play football in the district of their residence. 

“This is much more than just a home-school proposal. It should also be noted, that KHSAA guidelines only apply to high school students. Situations involving middle school students are decided at the local level,” Tackett said.

Locally, the bill got a mixed reception. Knights soccer Coach Greg Conley hadn’t heard of the bill until recently but his initial reaction seemed upbeat.

“I’m not going to complain,” Conley said. 

The bill would open the doors to receive more players for the team, but whether or not they would take starting positions remains to be seen. 

Marion County High School Athletics Director Robby Peterson said that while it would broaden team’s rosters, he wasn’t sure how they plan on measuring academic and behavioral requirements off the field.

“The kids that are in school who participate in athletics, they have to follow grade checks. They have to behave in school. They have to be positive role models in school, and I don’t know how you would get that from the home-school aspect,” Peterson said. “I’m not for sure what the guidelines are to be an effective home school environment.”

He said he’s a firm believer that all children should follow the same set of rules and guidelines. 

“Being a part of a team is not always how they are together during practice, but it’s their relationships that they have together during the school day that make a real good team,” Peterson said.

State Senator Jimmy Higdon said he’s always been very supportive of homeschooled children and said he’d support them taking part in academic activities, such as band, at public schools. 

“The devil’s in the details with athletics,” Higdon said. “You just have to be very careful when it comes to athletics because, unfortunately, some people have alternative motives.”

Higdon emphasized that he had not read the bill but he would be open to listening to both sides of the argument and needed to have all of the facts.

“If we do this, if it’s to be done, it needs to be done in the right way,” Higdon said.