Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

January 31, 2012

Home school policy approved

Under rules, home-school students can't participate in school extracurricular activities

CROSSVILLE — Home school students will not be eligible to participate in any regular school extracurricular activities following a 6-3 vote of the Cumberland County Board of Education Thursday night.

David Bowman, 7th District representative, "We're basically telling these folks that, if they're home schooled, they cannot participate in any kind of school activity. I have a very bad feeling that can be exploited. And, if they have a Tim Tebow out there, they're going to find a way to get that kid onto the public school teams."

Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, referred to conversations in the policy committee regarding random drug testing for students involved in extracurricular school activities he said related to the home school discussion.

"Extracurricular activities are actually a privilege and not a right. It's a way students can be rewarded in some way or used as a better learning tool to make a better attitude, better character, better everything," Blalock said.

Last year, the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association 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.

Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, said, "If kids are home schooled, they should have the opportunity to participate in sports, as long as they meet the criteria. They are students. I don't see why they shouldn't be included."

While residents in the county to contribute to the school system through their property tax payments, Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, said the county didn't receive state funding for those students because there were not part of the school system's average daily membership (ADM), used to determine the county's Basic Education Program funding. The ADM is also used to base the county's contribution to the school system.

"The misconception that a home-school student is paying taxes for a school system is really not correct," Schlafer said. "We don't realize any of that money. It's money we never had. Yes, their tax dollars go to support other things we do, but not the school system."

Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, said, "It is a choice of the parent to do that, and I respect that choice. We don't get any educational funds for the students that do that, and I know a lot of people think we do."

She questioned the liability to the school system if non-students were playing sports on public school teams.

According to Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, the TSSAA requires parents to provide a separate insurance policy that holds the school system harmless. This is at the parent's expense.

Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle said principals had expressed other concerns, as well, including the limited number of students who can participate in an athletic program.

"If you've got a football team, you can only have 11 students on the field. In basketball, only five can be on the floor," she said. "If there is a Tim Tebow, they will get playing time if they're good enough. Our schools play to win. But, a student there is there every day and maintains their grades and attendance, are they going to lose their playing time because of someone who follows different guidelines? They [home-school students] have to maintain their grades, but we don't know the standards they're held to to make their grades."

She noted home school programs could have higher expectations than the school system, however, the school system had no governance of home-school curriculum. Home-school students are required to be tested through the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test, end of course tests and other comprehensive tests to measure student achievement and progress. Those tests are administered through the school system, but the school system doesn't receive information from those scores.

Schlafer said, "I firmly support every parent's right to choose what is best for their child. Parents know best how their children learn and respond to teaching. But the bottom line is, there are a wide array of home school umbrella programs and standards in those programs. Some have high standards, maybe most do, but some don't even come close. It becomes a problem when determining TSSAA eligibility because it's not a level playing field."

Funding is another concern, with each school allocated only $500 for its athletic programs. VanWinkle said that doesn't cover the cost of one football uniform.

Janeway noted the inclusion of the exclusionary language, "Home school stduents shall not participate in any regular school extracurricular activities," was not a change to the original policy, having been included since the policy was first adopted in 1997.

The policy did have revisions that reflect changes to state law, which removes the Aug. 1 deadline to register intent to homeschool with the director of schools and that parents need only possess a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma in order to conduct classes for all grades. Previously, parents wishing to home school at the high school level needed at least a baccalaureate degree to teach grades 9-12.

A home school is a school conducted by a parent ,or parents, or legal guardian, or guardians, for their own children. Those parents associated with an organization that conducts church-related schools are governed by other provisions of state law and this policy is not applicable.

VanWinkle said there appeared to be movements nationally and even at the state level to undermine public school education, with charter school legislation, school vouchers and providing access to school programs without enrolling in the school system.

"Extracurricular activities are a privilege of being part of the public education program," she said. "If we say you don't have to be a part of that school, it's one more way to undermine public education. One more way to pull more more students away."

Blalock moved to approve the policy as presented. As this was the recommendation of the policy committee, no second was required to move the motion to a vote.

Voting in favor were Janeway, Brewer, Blalock, Schlafer, 6th District Representative Victor Randolph and 4th District Representative Roger Hyder. Voting against were Bowman, Davis and 1st District Representative Charles Tollett.

The policy requires two successful readings and it would not become effective until the 2012-'13 school year.

Also approved on first reading was a new policy that would require students in grades 7 through 12 to submit to random drug testing to be involved in any extracurricular school-sponsored activities, including athletics, music and special interest clubs. Under the policy, a percentage of students would be randomly selected for testing twice a year. Those testing positive once would have the option of completing a drug and alcohol counseling and intervention program and continuing their participation. A second positive drug test would prevent the student's participation in any extracurricular for one calendar year. A third positive drug test would preclude the student's participation for the remainder of their school career. Refusing to take a random drug test would result in a student's suspension from all extracurricular activities for one calendar year.

Also approved was the first reading of the buildings and grounds management policy, which moved responsibility for implementing custodial programs to the building principals. VanWinkle said during the policy committee this was already how custodial programs were organized.

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