By PAIGE BAXTER
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Home-schooled students in Virginia could participate in public school sports under the so-called “Tebow bill” that has been passed by the House and will be considered by a Senate committee this week.
Delegates voted 56-43 for House Bill 1442, which will be heard by the Senate Health and Education Committee on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle, would require public schools to allow home-schoolers to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Pulaski County’s delegates, Nick Rush (R-7) and Joseph Yost (R-12), both voted in favor of the bill.
Many parents who home-school their children support the legislation, which is nicknamed for NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who played football for his local high school while being home-schooled in Florida.
“I should be able to choose whether my kids play sports or not,” said Brad Foster, the father of five athletic home-schooled boys in Culpeper.
Currently in Virginia, no student who is being educated at home can join a public school sports team during the regular season. Families with home-schooled athletes like Foster’s must find other ways to participate in sports or opt out of playing sports completely.
Foster said the opportunity for his children to play sports goes away once they reached middle school. To allow his children to play sports, Foster has organized a basketball team. However, that’s expensive because home-schooling families must rent gym space whereas public schools provide everything for sports teams, Foster said.
“We want to use the privilege because we also pay taxes for [public schools] as well,” Foster said. Parents who home-school their children are not exempt from taxes.
Virginia has more than 32,000 home-schoolers, including about 8,000 at the high school level, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Albemarle County, for example, has more than 500 home-schoolers.
The Keyser family in Albemarle County also has struggled with the problem. Ethan Keyser, 17, is a junior in high school and likes to play football and lacrosse.
“I would like the opportunity to try out on a high school athletic team,” Ethan said.
Until high school, he played both sports because of various recreation teams, according to his father, Matt Keyser. Now that Ethan is in high school, he cannot play either sport except during off-season.
During off-season, Ethan was asked to play for several traveling high-school lacrosse teams, Matt Keyser said.
“He’s 6-foot-one, 210 pounds, and every coach he has ever played said they wished Ethan could play during the regular season,” Keyser said.
Ethan is now looking to apply for college. “It would’ve looked good on my college transcripts to have that I played several high school sports,” he said.
When the House voted on HB 1442 on Jan. 31, Republicans generally supported the legislation and Democrats mostly opposed it.
Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, for instance, both voted against bill.
“The public school system is not an a la carte menu that you can pick and choose what you want to participate in,” McClellan said. She said the “Tebow bill” raises a “matter of fairness.”
“One worry is that you would have a situation where a youngster in a public school was denied to participate because a home-schooler took their spot,” he said.
After passing the House, HB 1442 was referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health. The committee’s next meeting is at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Senate Room B in the General Assembly Building. If the committee approves the bill, it will go to the full Senate for a vote.
An identical measure, Senate Bill 812, had been filed in the Senate in December by Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville. But Garrett withdrew his proposal on Jan. 31.