South Dakota legislators Friday will consider a bill to remove barriers for home-schooled students who want to join public school sports teams, choirs and orchestras.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, would allow students to participate in interscholastic activities without school board approval.
It’s a slight change from current practice, where local school boards determine if and how to involve home-schooled students, but it would open the doors for students to play football, sing in choir or join the debate team regardless of local district policy.
Joel Brunick, father of five home-schooled children in the Sioux Falls area, said sports and school activities are an important part of South Dakota communities.
“Home-schooled kids are a member of the community just as much as the public school kids are,” Brunick said.
Opponents of the bill worry that its wording could provide a loophole for students who want to get around complying with the state’s academic eligibility requirements.
Several states allow home-schoolers to participate in activities without board approval, including in North Dakota, Minnesota and Florida, where former NFL quarterback and home-school graduate Tim Tebow grew up. Tebow became the first home-schooled student to win the Heisman trophy in 2007.
As it stands now, any South Dakota students who are attending accredited schools in the state must take a one-year break from participation in sports and activities if they decide to switch to “alternative education,” i.e. homeschooling.
John Krogstrand, assistant executive director of the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA), gave the hypothetical example of a standout basketball player who is struggling in school.
“Without that one-year sit out, a kid could file to become a home-schooled student and ultimately just be able to remain eligible,” Krogstrand said, noting that home-schooled families are not required to keep grade books to the same degree as accredited schools.
Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Brian Maher shared Krogstrand’s concerns during a school board work session Wednesday.
While the board has taken no formal stance for or against the bill, Maher asked board members to “keep an eye on” the bill.
“I think there needs to be an academic component to participation in activities, and we want to make sure that (the bill) wouldn’t water that down in any way,” Maher said.
Brunick said he and other home-school families have no problem with academic standards for participation.
“Those (activities) are a privilege for students who aren’t struggling with their schoolwork,” he said.
Krogstrand noted that the SDHSAA’s opposition of the bill is not coming from a place of distrust of home-school families.
“We don’t feel that there’s an issue with home school participation,” Krogstrand said. “We feel that this creates more issues for students who are not home-schooled to take advantage of the situation and give home-schooled students a bad name.”
The South Dakota House Education Committee will discuss the bill Friday morning.