Tebow, school-start date bill killed in Senate
Source: The News Desk
By: Chelyen Davis
March 1, 2012
RICHMOND — The bill to allow homeschool students to play public high school sports has died in a Senate committee.
On an 8-7 vote, the Senate Education and Health voted down Del. Rob Bell’s bill — known as the “Tebow” bill, after the Denver Broncos player who was homeschooled — ending the issue for this session.
The bill would have let homeschoolers try out for sports teams, debate teams, forensics, drama and other competitive extracurricular activities run by the Virginia High School League. The VHSL currently does not allow homeschool students to participate in those activities at the high school level.
Bell and the bill’s supporters said it would let homeschooled students play competitively with their friends, in sports settings where they might garner scholarships and the attention of college scouts. They also said that the students’ parents pay taxes that support public schools and that the students shouldn’t be shut out of those schools.
Opponents said it would open up sports and other activities to students who don’t have the same rigorous schedule as public school students. They also said participating in sports or other team activities is a privilege as part of the school experience, and that parents can’t cherrypick what they want from public schools.
A stream of homeschooled students lined up to speak in favor of the bill.
John Henderson and his little brother Chris stood together as John said he wanted to play high school baseball — and the coach wanted him too — but VHSL rules didn’t let him. He wants a different outcome for his brother and other young students.
“I want them to have a chance,” John Henderson said. “I remember the emotional pain that I went through watching all my teammates play.”
Another girl testified that she was “devastated” when she moved to Virginia from Florida — where homeschoolers can play high school sports — to find that she couldn’t play.
“It doesn’t seem right to me that because my mom taught me at home, I couldn’t play the sport that I loved,” she said.
Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, said if Tim Tebow hadn’t been able to play in public schools, “you would never have heard his name.
“I would like to see a Tim Tebow from the state of Virginia,” Black said.
Opponents of the bill said that if students want to play high school sports, they’re welcome to enroll in public high school.
Chip Carter, who said he’d been a teacher and coach for thirty years, said team activities are “a cohesive element of school culture.”
The bill, he said, “treats public high school athletics like a gym membership.”
Republican former delegate Jack Reid, a former principal and high school football coach, also testified against the bill.
Reid said that while homeschool parents do pay taxes, they also made the choice for their child not to attend public school, and that choice has consequences.
“The people that represent a high school should be the young people that go there,” Reid said.
Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said parents who choose to homeschool know what the rules are.
He also predicted that if this bill passed, homeschoolers would be back in the future seeking access to other high school facilities, like chemistry labs.
“It’s the camel’s nose under the tent,” Saslaw said.
In the end the committee voted 8-7 to kill the bill. Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake, a former high school principal, was the swing vote, voting against it.
The committee also voted down the “King’s Dominion” bill that would have let school divisions decide for themselves whether to start the school year before Labor Day.
More than half of the school divisions in the state already have exemptions to start school earlier. Most are west of I-95.
Supporters of the bill — including Gov. Bob McDonnell — say localities can decide for themselves what best fits their needs.
Opponents are largely business groups, who argue that allowing all schools to open earlier would cut into business because it would cut into late-August tourism and take student employees away from tourist-related businesses, like the big theme parks.