By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education approved the second and final reading of a home school policy Thursday. The approved policy retains language that bars home schooled students from participating in school-sponsored extracurricular activities.
Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, said, "If they do not want our teachers to teach them, why in the world do they want the same people to coach them?"
Though the first reading was approved at the January meeting with a 6-3 vote, second reading of policies were not included on the agenda. Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, brought the oversight to the attention of the board at the beginning of the meeting, and they were added to the agenda. Janeway moved to approve the home school policy, seconded by Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative and chairman, to allow for discussion.
"This is extracurricular," said Janeway during the discussion. "This is not required for an education. It is a benefit for the students who go to school. I have mixed feelings on it, too, but I see from a headache standpoint, a monetary standpoint..."
The policy had several changes related to changes in state law, including removal of the Aug. 1 deadline to register intent to homeschool and that parents need only possess a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma in order to conduct classes for all grades.
An early revision had removed the portion that stated, "Home school students shall not participate in any regular school extracurricular activities." That language was part of the original policy first adopted in 1997.
Last year, the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) changed its bylaws to allow home school students to participate in TSSAA sanctioned school athletics, provided they met all the requirements of TSSAA participation. The change in bylaws did not require school systems to allow that participation, but did provide that option for school systems that chose to do so. It's been called a Tim Tebow rule because the star quarterback was able to participate in Florida high school football while he focused on Christian-based studies at home. The TSSAA ruling does not extend to students home-schooled program affiliated with church-sponsored umbrella programs.
Concerns expressed in allowing home school students to participate in school extracurricular activities, not just athletics, include the fact public school students are required to be at school at least half a school day in order to participate in extracurricular activities and meet academic standards and codes of conduct.
Scott Maddox, principal of Stone Memorial High School, was asked to comment on his feelings. He said, "We don't have any control over those students, yet they are going out and representing us as a school. There's a lot of good students out there that are being home schooled, but there's some not so good, too, I'm sure.
"I've always opened my arms up to any kid I can, but I do have that one concern," he added.
Janet Graham, principal at Cumberland County High School, noted that, while many families chose homeschooling in order to provide greater educational opportunities or to better facilitate special needs, others chose homeschooling for the "wrong reasons."
"We don't get that as much at the high school as elementary schools," she said, "But there were those that, if they didn't like the teacher or they didn't like the rules, they'd say, 'We'll just home school.' Those are the wrong reasons."
Some students, she said, had chosen to home school to avoid disciplinary action through the schools due to behavior or attendance issues.
"There are those who were not kids that came to school. Their attendance was terrible. They'd get mad because we'd send them to truancy because they wouldn't come to school. Or, they didn't behave and they didn't think it was fair that we held them to standards and they chose to leave," Graham said. "I don't want them on my team. I don't want them wearing a CCHS jersey.
She said it was a choice to separate from the public school system and allowing students to return to the school for athletics or other activities would cause problems for the school system.
"When you open the door, you open the door," she said. "At that point, you can't say, 'Well, you're being home schooled for the right reasons.'"
Other concerns included the equity of placing a home school student on a team over a public school student who has tried out and is enrolled in the school. Also, Sharon Daniels, principal at Martin Elementary, asked, if a home school student tried out for a team and didn't make it, would the school be seen as "picking on that child?"
Schools also operate extracurricular activities on small budgets, relying on fundraisers to be able to field a team or provide activities.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said the issue pointed to a larger issue of the kind of relationship the public school system had with those who chose to educate their children at home.
"We're not talking about just athletics," Tollett said. "We're talking about a variety of other things that could emerge over time. On the larger scene, what kind of relationship are we going to have with these folks who live in our community, who pay taxes and whose children will likely marry the children who go to the public schools?"
Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, said, "It's the projection we put out there. If a student is meeting the criteria and the grades, I don't see how in the world you could deny their right to play in sports. Public or home school students should not be denied the opportunity to participate."
Schlafer noted he had family members who had home schooled their children, and they had done very well academically and socially. He added he respected the right of parents to choose the best educational option for their child. However, he added there was a vast array of umbrella programs with varying academic standards.
David Bowman, 7th District representative, said he felt any student that was part of a school team or club, whether home schooled or enrolled at the public school, would be held to the same standards of conduct.
Daniels, who home schooled her children for five years, said, "There are a gamut of things out there for home school students, from band to sports, if you want to be involved in your community. I've done it."
There are several community resources available for those who want their children to participate in athletics, music, theater or art, from the programs through Crossville Centennial Park, the Cumberland County Youth Center, Cumberland County Playhouse, community band and chorus groups and the arts organizations.
Graham added that extracurricular activities included more than just athletics. Activities such as theater and band would be included. These are also courses taken for credit during the school day with after school involvement.
"Are they going to be coming for that class?" she asked.
Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, noted there was a perception the school system received funding for those children who are home schooled. However, that was not correct.
"We do not receive state funding for the home schooled or private schooled children," she said.
The school system's funding is determined by the average daily membership, attendance, of students enrolled in the school.
It was noted that, before allowing home school students to participate, numerous issues would have to be resolved, including establishing guidelines as to which schools students would be eligible to participate at, avoiding unfair recruiting for athletics, questions of liability insurance while riding on public school buses and liability insurance that covers the employee coaches.
Tollett said, "The conversation makes a lot of sense. It shows me what a complex issue this is."
As the discussion came to a close, Schlafer said he would withdraw his support of the motion to allow for more study. Blalock then seconded Janeway's motion and brought the matter to a vote.
Voting in favor were Janeway, Brewer, Blalock, Schlafer and Roger Hyder, 4th District representative. Voting against were Tollett, Bowman and Davis.
The policy will become effective with the 2012-'13 school year.
Also approved on second and final reading was a policy authorizing random drug testing for all students involved in extracurricular activities, beginning with the seventh grade, and changes to the building and grounds management policy.