Home-school sports bill advances

Fairness » Bill would let home-schoolers play school sports
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A bill that would allow home-school and private-school students participate in sports and activities at public schools passed in committee today despite arguments that it could give home-school students an unfair advantage.

SB61 would allow home-school and private-school students to play sports and participate in extracurricular activities at the public schools they otherwise would have attended. The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) already allows that, but bill sponsor Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, said some schools still choose not to permit those student to participate.

"The parents of these home-school and private-school students, they're still paying for a public school education their children are not receiving … but sometimes they are not allowed to participate," Madsen said. "I'm hoping with this bill in Utah we can remove the last vestige of antiquated thinking and discrimination against home-school students."

The UHSAA, however, spoke against the bill. Mark Van Wagoner, an attorney for USHAA, said he has never heard of a school turning home- or private-school students away, and he worries about letting home-school students off easy when it comes to meeting academic requirements.

The bill would require home-school students to prove academic eligibility by submitting an affidavit signed by the person providing the instruction -- which is often the parent -- saying the student is doing well and making progress.

"I can image some students saying, 'Why do I have to get a 2.0 (GPA) when this kid just gets a note from their parents?'" Van Wagoner said.

Bart Thompson, assistant USHAA director, said he also worries about creating a loophole that would allow failing students to play sports. The bill would prohibit students who are declared academically ineligible for sports at their public schools from becoming home-schooled and then immediately rejoining their teams. Such students would first have to submit test results or a portfolio of work to show they're doing better.

But Thompson worries that failing students might become home-schooled before they're declared ineligible so they can continue to play sports.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he doesn't believe parents would allow that.

"There's an assumption home-school parents are dishonest," Stephenson said. "My experience has been home-school parents seem to have a higher ethical standards than the average person."

The committee ultimately voted 4-2 to pass the bill, which now goes to the Senate floor. Last year, a similar bill passed through the Senate but floundered in the House.