Is Equal Access Really Equal?
A piece of legislation can at any time place a nose under the tent into the entire home education community. As one Senator told us several years ago when we fought a similar bill, "We can regulate you (the constitutional home educator) any time we want without an equal access bill, this just opens the door to make it easier." If you read on our Why We Oppose Equal Access page, you will see quotes from educators and coaches stating that overall regulation and accountability would not be out of the question.
But, they can't do that! Right? It is written into our Constitution that we have the right to educate our children by other means. Yes, it does, but it does not say that we cannot be regulated in the process. Policy has a way of sneaking its way into every piece of legislation and while they are two separate things each can be just as harmful. At CHEA, we work just as diligently to stop regulation regardless the form in which it comes.
SB1509 is a Tebow bill aimed directly at home educators. Below is an overview of the bill and reasons why we oppose it.
Senate Bill 1509- Homeschool Student Extracurricular Activities Bill
Overview: This bill would require every school district’s board of education to adopt a policy (No one knows what that policy will entail nor how it will be implemented) that specifically allows homeschool students to participate in their extracurricular activities. In order to participate the student would have to 1) register with their resident school district by July 1; 2) pay any participation/activity fee the same as any other student; 3) follow the same behavior, responsibility, performance, and code of conduct required by other students; 4) follow the rules of any school athletic association that governs that activity; 5) submit to any physical exams or drug testing required of all students; and 6) adhere to the same academic standards as other participants in the district.
While the student participates in the activities they have to demonstrate their academic standard by a method of evaluation that is agreed upon by the parent and the superintendent of the school. It could include review of the student’s work by a certified teacher, a nationally recognized standardize test, or evaluation of grades earned through correspondence courses.
This bill also prohibits a public school or district from being a member of an athletic association that does not allow a homeschool student to participate in that activity.
Opinion: This is a “Tim Tebow” bill. It directly applies to homeschool students and would require all districts to implement a policy to allow their participation. Let’s look at some of the difficulties we have with this bill. We had many questions about this bill and the author really offered no answers or solutions.
1) Register with their resident school district - Define registration. Exactly what does that mean? Does registration equal enroll? If I am not “enrolled” who is going to pay for my insurance? Will I be required to provide my own? Do I go to the local school, the superintendent’s office, where? Once I am “registered” will I now be included in the P-21 longitudinal database? If I am a “registered” student, am I going to have to follow the same policy and rules regarding vaccinations? Public school students are required to be vaccinated with very few exemptions.
2) Pay any participation/activity fee the same as any other student - not a problem, that is absolutely fair. Since we don’t know if registration puts me under the school’s insurance, will paying the fee cover me if I get injured?
3) Follow the same behavior, responsibility, performance, and code of conduct required by other students and adhere to the same academic standards as other participants in the district.- sounds simple, but define performance. Is that academic or talent based performance? If academic, what if the certified teacher reviewing my work decides he/she doesn’t approve of the curriculum I am using? Define standard. What if the standard I am supposed to adhere to includes CRT or SEL or inappropriate sex education? The bill states that I must be evaluated by a method agreed upon by the superintendent and the parents. If testing is the method, you need to make certain that you have in writing exactly what that test will be and have access to how it will be implemented and what the content will be. In the past, we have had numerous accounts of schools giving bogus tests to homeschoolers who came to them for the 8th grade reading proficiency test required to get a driver’s license. Many were given the adult literacy test or the English proficiency test for naturalization.
We all know that the standardized test is what the public schools teach to. That is their measure of academic success. If you choose to test, be aware, you may also have to purchase the same curriculum they are using in the public school classroom in order to have the same information and be equipped to answer the questions correctly. For example, the history books in the public school have a decidedly different viewpoint than those that many conservative Christian home educators would have. Science does not include creationism but focuses more on the theory of evolution. Just be aware of the differences.
Why are we wasting time and money trying to pass into law a policy which is already in place. We don't need another law on the books for this purpose. It is unnecessary.
4) Follow the rules of any school athletic association that governs that activity- this one could be tricky as there is a mixed message being sent. First, the OSSAA is currently the only athletic association in Oklahoma and governs all extra curricular activities. In reading through the entire 35 pages of Rules Governing Interscholastic Activities in Secondary Schools, what I found is that this section of the bill is doing nothing more than stating that as long as a student meets OSSAA requirements, he/she can participate in local school activities. Why are we wasting time and money trying to pass into law a policy which is already in place. We don't need another law on the books for this purpose. It is unnecessary.
The first requirement of the OSSAA in general is a physical exam (which you pay for) and a parental consent certificate both of which have to be completed yearly. It also requires enrollment in the public school district where you reside. The first academic requirement is that you are passing five classes which must be from a state accredited school and count toward the state graduation requirements. Last time I checked, those educated "by other means" were not accredited by the state. So basically, home educated students cannot participate. The rules go on with much more detail as to how many weeks you have to wait if you are a first time enrollee, transfer student, etc... which indicates that even if you jump through their hoops, you may have to wait a whole year before being eligible to actually participate in any activity, sports or otherwise.
Students in grades 7-12 would also have to have meet the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association requirements, unless the school was not a member of OSSAA.
a) Proof of age would be required;
b) A review of the students academic progress would also have to be verified by the local school district. Again, this appears that it would be a subjective review and could vary wildly from school district to school district.
c) According to OSAA requirements, the student must be passing at least 5 subjects that count towards graduation to be eligible.
d) OSAA also requires all students to be "enrolled...at a member school in courses, activities, or alternative programs in which credits are being earned" in order to participate in extracurricular activities. Since this bill is aimed directly at home educated students, a student who wants to participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school would have to be enrolled part-time.
e) OSAA also requires daily attendance so a student educated at home would likely need to verify daily attendance in order to be eligible to participate.
HSLDA agrees that these requirements, including enrollment in the public school system will be implemented in order to participate. Remember, home educated students cannot participate, thus the enrollment rule. Once you enroll, you are now, by law, a public school student and eligible to participate. Second, in another section of this bill, it prohibits a public school or district from being a member of any athletic association that does not allow a homeschool student to participate in an activity. Does anyone else see the mixed message? First they say that I have to follow all the rules and guidelines of the athletic association (including enrollment to make me a public school student) then they say that schools cannot be a member of an association that dos not allow homeschool students to participate. I’m confused. Since the OSSAA is the only athletic association in the state, is the author using this bill to try to eliminate the OSSAA? This bill would mandate that every school pull out of the OSSAA or be in violation of this law. Or, the OSSAA would have to change its policy to include individual home educated students (not teams). I’m not exactly sure how that would work as all the activities are team activities, even if individuals score separately (such as golf or tennis). Schools join the OSSAA, not individuals. What is the actual agenda here? Are homeschool students being used as pawns in a bigger picture? I know that the OSSAA has been the target of scrutiny for several years and many legislators are not fond of them (the author included) and there has been a push from legislators to dismantle their organization. Mostly, because their kid or someone they know was declared ineligible to play a sport. Everyone thinks their kid should be the exception. If the OSSAA does not organize and be a checks and balances for the extra curricular activities, who will? Are we going to start yet another state funded agency to do this? The OSSAA is a privately funded 501C3 not a government agency and takes no state funding therefore does not fall under the control and oversight of the state.
...home educated students cannot participate, thus the enrollment rule. Once you enroll, you are now, by law, a public school student and eligible to participate.
5) This opens another scenario which we have seen on two other similar bills. Epic, public school at home, and virtual charter students believe that they are homeschoolers when they are actually just home-schooling. They are all public school students but many of them are taking classes in a virtual format from a district that may be all the way across the state. While they live in public school District A, they are enrolled in public school District Q. Are they going to be considered homeschooled because of the location at which they do their studies? Will they be allowed to go to the local school district where they reside and say, “Hey, I’m a homeschooler and I want to play football.”? That would require them to now enroll (as per the association guidelines) in that local school. How is that going to be handled? It is illegal for a student to be dually enrolled in two separate districts. Then, what happens to our autonomy as true constitutional home educators? Two of the bills we have fought were initiated by families using Epic (but calling themselves homeschoolers) and wanted access to the local school activities.The pot just gets more muddy. Now, someone is going to want to define what “other means of education” really is. Who are the “homeschoolers”? What defines them? This group calls themselves homeschoolers, and this group calls themselves home educators or educating by other means. What is the difference? Well, let’s just lump them all into one pot and we won’t have to try to figure it out. What's good for one is good for all.
Now, someone is going to want to define what “other means of education” really is. Who are the “homeschoolers”? What defines them? This group calls themselves homeschoolers, and this group calls themselves home educators or educating by other means. What is the difference?
6) Just the fact that this bill is specific to “homeschool” students is concerning. We have worked to keep the term “homeschool” out of any legislation and prefer to use the term from our Constitution, “by other means”.
7) Is this really EQUAL access? The school districts will be FORCED to open their activities to every student. If I come in as an outsider will I actually get to play sports? Will I be given the same consideration for first chair flute in the band? Who will want me as a partner on the debate team? Even the author admitted that probably would not happen. No coach is going to put a kid not enrolled and participating in the school on the field or court when he has his “own” kids sitting right there. No school board member is going to be happy if his kid has to sit on the bench to let an outsider play. Coaches and superintendents have consistently stated that overall regulation and accountability of the homeschool community would be pursued if equal access were instated. It would be very unfortunate and sad to put a bill like this into law and have the one kid it was written for never get anything out of it yet except government oversight.
On the flip side, with all the confusion created by the virtual schools and vouchers and transferring back and forth, are homeschool teams going to get the same mandate and be forced to allow public school students to participate with them?
8) This could create more fraud. We already know of families that have been told that if something like this passed, they could take their small 6th grader out of PS and homeschool him for a year but not pass him. Then, go back to the public school as a homeschooler and join the sports program as a 6th grader so that he was bigger and better equipped to wrestle. What?! No lie. Fraud. Straight up. Don’t use us as your pawns!
9) It is problematic that there is no consistency. Each school district will make its own rules. They want us to follow all their standards, yet there is not standard among themselves. Each district can decide how they will evaluate and who they will accept.
Don’t write something into law that directly impacts thousands of people for the sake of a few. Just having a law written specifically for home educators opens doors for more oversight and regulation because now, we are a special interest group.
10) From the information the author gave us, this was a request bill from a constituent whose children are in kindergarten and third grade. They are not even old enough to participate in school sports yet are willing to jeopardize the autonomy and freedom of every home educating family in the state. For the past 13 years, constitutional home educated families have loudly told the legislators that they did not want a bill like this. Yes, there are a few, and we have worked with the OSSAA and local school districts on an individual basis, to come up with a solution that worked for everyone. Don’t write something into law that directly impacts thousands of people for the sake of a few. Just having a law written specifically for home educators opens doors for more oversight and regulation because now, we are a special interest group.
Finally, as we have always stated, anytime a door is opened for a specific group, it includes everyone. It’s kind of like the saying, “You don’t just marry an individual, you marry the family.” Same concept applies. At first, there is a honeymoon period where everyone just leaves you alone but as the years (sometimes months) go on, the rules start changing and now what affects mama rolls down to the son and then to the daughter-in-law.
One instance was noted several years ago when a public school (in another state) required testing for anyone participating in their extra curricular activities. After a couple of years, they noticed that the handful of homeschool students taking the tests were raising their test scores. So, if a handful can raise scores a point or two, what would the entire homeschool community do? Guess who gets to test now?
Anytime you have more questions than there are answers, it’s time to run.
The longer I sit here, the more questions and concerns arise but I think you are seeing why we are concerned and do not want equal access. Anytime you have more questions than there are answers, it’s time to run. If we don’t have the answers and they are not written specifically into the language of the bill, at some point, some well-meaning (or maybe hateful) lawmaker will fill in the blanks for us and they will not be to our best interest. I am not willing to take that chance.