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Va. Bill Allowing Home Schoolers in Public School Sports Sent to Governor

The Virginia General Assembly approved a bill last week that would allow home-schooled students to participate in public school sports, sending it to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for final approval.

Legislators in the state have been attempting to pass such a bill since 2005, according to The Washington Post, but it died last year in a Senate committee. This year, however, the state Senate passed it on a 22-13 vote on Feb. 17, and the House of Delegates voted 62-37 in favor two days later.

If McAuliffe signs the bill, districts would be allowed—but not required—to establish a policy allowing home-schooled students to participate in their extracurricular activities. To become eligible for public school sports, a student must be home schooled for at least two consecutive academic years before the academic year in which he or she seeks to participate.

Home-schooled students may only participate in sports "at the school serving the attendance zone in which the student lives," according to the text of the bill, "and shall be subject to all policies governing such participation that the local school board may establish." If passed, the bill would also all schools to charge "reasonable fees... including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, or equipment" to home-schooled students.

The Virginia High School League opposes the bill, according to the Daily Press, with executive director Ken Tilley specifically pointing out differences between eligibility requirements for home-schooled students and traditional public school students. Under the organization's current rules, public school students must take and pass five subjects to be eligible to participate in sports, while "no such provision exists in the code" for home-schooled students, Tilley told the paper.

The Virginian-Pilot's editorial board also came out strongly against the bill, writing:

The effort by Virginia lawmakers to permit this kind of end-run around the commonwealth's interscholastic sports system serves to encourage more students to withdraw from the public school, while still permitting them to enjoy the privilege of representing that school. It undercuts the old-fashioned notion that in life, everyone must make choices, and those choices carry consequences.

Students who choose not to enroll in a public school—and parents who refuse to enroll their children in public school—should recognize that their choice includes a decision about athletic competition.

According to the Daily Press, Gov. McAuliffe has not yet decided whether to sign it. If he does, Virginia will become the 30th state to allow home-schooled students to participate in public school sports, per the paper. Mississippi lawmakers recently quashed a similar measure.

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