‘Homeschoolers Town Hall’ set on eligibility for public school athletics

Rick Wagner • Jun 3, 2013 at 9:33 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Area Tennessee homeschoolers soon could be participating in public school athletic programs, as long as it is at a school to which they otherwise would be zoned.

Effective July 1, schools in Sullivan County, Kingsport and all other public schools in the state must allow eligible homeschooled students to participate in athletic program tryouts.

The changes, thanks to House Bill 222/Senate Bill 240, relies on 2011 Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association and Tennessee Middle Schools Athletic Association eligibility requirements for the process.

“The law changed from may to shall for this particular activity,” said state Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville and a co-sponsor of the legislation. Other co-sponsors of the bill included Reps. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough and brother of Timothy Hill, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

Timothy Hill, in cooperation with the Sullivan County school system, is hosting what he called an open forum “Homeschoolers Town Hall” at 6 p.m., June 11, in the old County Courthouse in downtown Blountvillle. Hill said the informational meeting would last about an hour.

“It’s a great opportunity to try to eliminate any confusion,” Timothy Hill said of the legislation passed by the House and Senate in late March. “The intent of the legislation is to see that homeschoolers have the opportunity to try out. There’s no guarantee they’ll make the team.”

He said “very few” school systems have allowed homeschoolers to try out for athletic programs since the TSSAA and TMSAA eligibility rules became effective in the 2011-12 school year.

The rules, starting on Page 19 at www.tssaa.org/Handbook/handbook.pdf, require the homeschooled student live inside the zone of the school and meet minimum academic requirements each semester.

Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie Wednesday predicted the law change will result in a “handful” of homeschoolers trying out in the county system.

The county Board of Education at its June 3 meeting is to vote on a proposal to set homeschooler athletes the same participation fee as other athletes, at TSSAA and TMSAA maximums of $300, although Yennie said few if any fees would approach that amount.

Dobyns-Bennett High School Athletic Director Cary Daniels said Thursday he understood about 15 to 20 homeschoolers participated in public school sports programs statewide in 2012-13, mostly in more individual sports or swimming.

However, he said he knew of none who have sought to try out at D-B. He said he can’t attend the June 11 meeting because he will be at a TSSAA Board of Control meeting then.

A parent last year approached the county Board of Education about a student trying out, but the BOE at the time took no action, with school officials citing a common policy among Northeast Tennessee school systems not to allow homeschoolers to participate. D-B Principal Chris Hampton said he’s known of only one parent who sought a homeschooler’s tryout at D-B a few years ago.

Hill said he didn’t know how many might try out.

“I do know there’s a tremendous amount of interest,” Hill said. The TSSAA for a couple of years has had rules of eligibility for systems that choose to allow homeschoolers to try out to be student athletes but no mandate that individual school boards allow the tryouts.

Hill said he planned on introducing a similar bill but signed onto the legislation already filed by Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville.

“There finally is equity for the parents that have consistently paid into the school system with their tax dollars,” Hill said.

The meeting is open to the public, with school board members and officials of Sullivan County and other area systems invited, as well as area homeschoolers and home school associations.

The law, codified as Public Chapter 225 of 2013, is summarized at http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/billinfo/BillSummaryArchive.aspx?BillNumber=HB0222&ga=108.

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