Judge Rules Against School Sports Participation

by Howard Richman

from May 1995 issue of PA Homeschoolers

On March 27, 1995, Federal Judge Gary L. Lancaster ruled against a homeschooling family, the McNatts of Dawson, Fayette County, who charged their local school district with violating their son Jeremy's civil rights by not letting him participate in the school sports of the Frazier Commodores. Judge Lancaster ruled that in Pennsylvania, individual school districts have the choice of whether or not they let homeschoolers participate on their teams. Some districts permit homeschool participation, others do not.

In October 1994, Mr. and Mrs. Harry McNatt began homeschooling their son Jeremy who was then a "B" average student in the Frazier public schools.

In October and November, 1994, Mrs. McNatt had talked with the local school principal and requested information about whether homeschoolers were allowed to participate in school sports and, prior to the November school board meeting, she wrote a letter formally requesting permission. But after the meeting she was told that the board had not yet made a decision. She felt that they were stringing her along and that Jeremy was missing the basketball season.

Meanwhile she took Jeremy in to the school nurse for a physical exam in preparation for sports, and Jeremy passed. Then she started taking him to the basketball practices and he made the team. At that point the school district still did not have a policy.

At the December 1994 school board meeting, she gave each member of the board a list of school districts that have made a policy in favor of homeschoolers' participation in extra- curricular activities. She gathered the list herself by phoning districts across the state. She especially listed districts that her own school plays in varsity sports. She also found out that PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) policy permitted homeschool participation and that she had talked personally with a PIAA representative. She even offered to supply an attendance log to verify her son's attendance and offered to supply the coach with information about her son's satisfactory grades or work. She asked for an answer at that meeting so that her son could resume his participation on the basketball team.

Nevertheless, the Frazier School Board voted 6 to 2 against letting homeschoolers' participate because of concerns that they would be opening the door to abuse of their academic requirements. An AP wire service story quoted School Superintendent Smeigh saying, "A student who is in trouble academically could simply file an affidavit for home schooling to be eligible to play." Jeremy McNatt was quoted in the same wire service story as saying, "I don't think it was fair. My rights are violated. I am being discriminated against because I'm in home schooling."

This defeat in court suggests that homeschool families who want access to public school sports will not win access by challenging them in court.

Background on Academic Requirements

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Pennsylvania some districts are allowing homeschoolers to participate in their sports while others are denying permission. Debra Bell, homeschooling leader and mother of boys who like to wrestle, successfully led a campaign to get access to school sports in the Palmyra School District. In order to meet school district concerns that sports participants are getting passing grades (a requirement for sports participation) she put together a form in which parents state their students' current grades and offer to back up those claims with evidence from the students' portfolios whenever it is requested. Those who choose for their children to play school sports may have to give up some of their freedom in exchange.

Debra Bell has also helped homeschoolers in other districts mount successful lobbying campaigns with their school districts to get access to school district sports. Her advice is, "Your best chance of success is taking the time to build a bridge between school boards, administrators, and home schooling families district by district."

She is asking homeschoolers in friendly districts to let her know so that she can update her list of districts permitting sports participation. If you have such information, please write her (Debra Bell, Home School Resource Center, 6 Royal RD, Palmyra PA 17078).

As we have reported in past issues of this newsletter where homeschoolers have respectfully lobbied for participation in school sports and have been willing to address district concerns, districts have often, but not always, voted to permit homeschool participation in school sports.

For example in Issue #46 Lisa Schaeffer wrote about the successful lobbying effort of the Lycoming County Homeschool Support Group to get homeschool participation in school sports in the Williamsburg Area School District and in Issue #45 I wrote about the Canton District reversing their policy and allowing 16 year old Ross Bird to participate on their football team.

Other Sports Options

There is a negative side to school sports as well. For example, in Issue #49 of our newsletter, Cathy Burkhardt wrote that she worked for years to arrange her son Tim' partial enrollment in Palisades School District including school sports, but after playing school football her son Tim decided he wanted to stop homeschooling and attend school full time.

Meanwhile, there are many other options for sports participation. Homeschoolers participate on community teams, church league teams, Christian school teams, and in a wide variety of individual sports.

Also homeschool high school teams have been springing up as the numbers of homeschooled students continues to boom. In Pennsylvania we already have basketball and co-ed volleyball tournaments just for homeschool support group teams.

You don't see private school students trying to participate on public school teams. If we want homeschooling to be treated like private education, it might be better if we learned to be independent of school sports.

Do You Want a Law Change?

After her defeat in court, Charlene McNatt said she would be going to her legislators to try to promote a bill that would mandate that school districts permit homeschool participation in school sports. If you would like to help her, write or call Charlene McNatt (RD 1 Box 69B, Dawson PA 15428, 412-529- 2716).

Russ Miller, staff member in the Republican Research Office of the PA House of Representatives wants to know what homeschoolers think about this issue. At least two states have already passed mandates requiring that districts permit homeschool participation in public school sports. Do you want Pennsylvania to do the same? If so, what checks and balances would you permit to meet the concerns of districts that homeschool not become a loop hole for athletes who are in academic trouble? We will publish an open forum on this issue in the next newsletter. We plan to publish everything we get so long as it is 100 words or less and is postmarked by July 15.

Open Forum on Extracurriculars

From Issue #52 of PA Homeschoolers newsletter

In the last issue we invited homeschoolers to address the question: Do you want a law change to mandate that school districts permit homeschool participation in school sports? Russ Miller, staff member in the Republican Research Office of the PA House of Representatives wanted to know what homeschoolers think about this issue. Here were all the responses that we received from the homeschool community:

from Audrey Smith

At homeschooler Achievement Center (HSAC), we organize and pay for extra-curricular activities for homeschoolers. So far, we have organized academic activities, as opposed to sports, because we believe it's very important for homeschoolers to have equal access to these programs and these awards (ranging from pins & patches to college scholarships). We also work to help make homeschooling thought of as an education option, just as readily as public and private schools are. I agree with the editor of the article that if homeschooling truly is an equal educational alternative we should form our own sports leagues. If enough parents are willing to get involved, homeschooling sports teams could vs. public and private school teams just as HSAC's academic teams do. Two possible problems may be financial backing and having enough students in the same geographic area wanting to participate in the teams, constently, year after year.

There are a vast number of sports individuals and homeschool clubs and teams may participate in through the AAU and Junior Olympics. Junior Olympis is the branch of THE Olympics children can participate in until they are old enough & wish to go on to the Olympics. Homeschoolers can form track clubs for example, join a club already in existence, or participate in meets as individuals. Meets, qualifiers, regionals, and national competitions are already in place for anyone to compete in.

from Gregg Keckler

I am writing in response to your request for opinions regarding a state mandate for homeschool involvement in public school activities. I would not be in favor of a mandate regulating homeschool participation in public school programs. I wonder how many of us really want more government invovlement? I realize the idea of homeschool participation may fulfill a desire, but at the price of more government intervention? I know my personal invovlement is optional. In this case, the government is preempting the local school's authority, but would we want the shoe on the other foot? Conclusion: Keep government involvement to a minimum. We have a fine homeschool law. Why get the state involved again.

from Edris Wilson

My freedom to educate our children at home supercedes any participation in public school sports programs. I strongly disagree with those who seek such involvement for several reasons. First, some freedom must be relinquished to be a part of the public school system. Also, this is one step for interference of school officials. For example, they may require that our children meet certain requirements with which I disagree. Then there is the testimony of schools who have lost their autonomy over the years as they have accepted "help" from public schools (the government). I would prefer to pay my taxes and receive nothing than to relinquish that which we have gained.

from Annie and John Sallade

Just a note on homeschoolers' relationships with their school districts. As one family of about three who homeschool within the Wyomissing Area School District, we have been very well received and respected in the two years we've taught at home. The superintendent has welcomed our children's involvement in any classes, projects, and extracurricular activities we choose, keeping us informed about upcoming programs through regular mailings of the school newsletter and calendar of events. Our sixth grade daughter has participated in the science fair and is a member of the "Spartan Singers," a select chorus at the middle school.

from Debra Bell

Appealing to our legislators may not be the best step at this time. It could open the door to tampering with the homeschool law, and may result in more regulations -- even for families who are not interested in any services from their local school district.

Further, if legislative change is eventually sought, a solid public relations campaign that has raised public understanding and support of home education should preceed this step. To that end, I'd like to encourage all those who want to open the door to extracurricular activities for their kids to invest time first in building a respect for home education in their community and a rapport with school officials. Read: my goal is to be so likeable, people can not say no to me.

How To Build A Bridge

from Debra Bell

Things You Can Do On the Local Level to Open the Door to Participation:

  1. Comply promptly and with excellence with the homeschool law.
  2. Establish rapport between yourself and administration. Ask what concerns they have about participation. Listen.
  3. Make sure your kids demonstrate leadership and respectful attitudes on their teams.
  4. Get to know your school board members. Call them and ask what concerns they have. Work to positively address those concerns.
  5. Call the local media to cover homeschool events or the accomplishments of homeschool students. Feature stories about homeschool athletes participating in a neighboring district would be helpful.
  6. Work to build community-wide understanding about homeschooling. Get others willing to speak up for you.
  7. Choose a homeschool spokesperson who is articulate and respected.
  8. Call your state and local representatives and ask them to write a letter on your behalf.
  9. Collect signatures from registered voters who support homeschool students participation.
  10. Get coaches and other respected individuals to speak up on your kid's behalf. (Make sure your kids have done their job in earning respect.)
  11. Be involved in your community. Get out and get to know people. If your board and administration know you outside of just your homeschooling identity, they'll at least listen to your requests when you make them. Don't come across as someone just interested in his own agenda.
  12. Be respectful and charming. Don't come across as someone demanding his rights.
  13. Show appreciation to your school board and administration for their work and consideration.
  14. Diplomacy takes longer but in the end it works! I am glad to help groups who are seeking extra-curricular participation. I can be reached at the Home School Resource Center, M-F afternoons, 717-838-6201. I have a 19 page packet I can fax to groups. One request: please give me some led time, I've been getting a lot of requests from folks who have a school board meeting the next day. That just not enough time to prepare to put your best foot forward. Reported PA School Districts That Allow Participation: Adams, Armstrong, Bethel Park, Boyertown, Central Bucks, Chestnut Ridge, Danville Area, Knox, Montoursville, Palisades, Palmyra Area, Perkasie Area, Peters Township, Radnor, United, Williamsport, York City, and Yough. This is the current listing reported to Debra Bell. If there are additions or corrections to this list, please mail that information to Debra Bell, Home School Resource Center, 6 Royal Road, Palmyra, PA 17078.

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