The House of Delegates Education Committee approved a bill for a floor vote last week that would allow home-schooled students to participate in public schools' athletics programs.
The legislation would prohibit public schools from joining the Virginia High School League unless VHSL changes its rules to allow home-schooled students to participate.
The bill (HB 947), informally known as the "Tebow Bill" because of Denver Broncos' quarterback Tim Tebow's background as a home-schooled student who played for a public school in Florida, will soon face a vote on the House floor.
If the proposal falls along party lines, as it largely did in committee — of the 14 who voted in favor of the bill, 13 are Republicans — it will easily pass the Republican-dominated House.
Two of Oakton's delegates, Jim LeMunyon (R-67th District) and Mark Keam (D-35th District), serve on the Education Committee. LeMunyon voted in favor of the bill; Keam voted against it.
In the Jan. 26 Fairfax County School Board meeting, members voted 10-1 to add its opposition to a similar bill (HB 905) to the 2012 legislative package approved in December. Member Sandy Evans (Mason) abstained.
The statement added to the legislative program says, "The Fairfax County School Board opposes mandates to require local school boards to allow students who are not currently enrolled full time in a public school in their locality to participate in student athletics and activities."
Member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said she worries the bill opens up the door for parochial and other private school students to choose which public school teams they would like to play for.
"We've got to ask ourselves what is the point or the purpose of our high school sports? Because we do have recreational leagues that go all the way up to when these kids graduate from high school," she said. "It's my understanding that high school sports are for that community, those kids who attend that school and get to represent their school and compete in the sport they love. And it's a big part of American culture."
Bill Curran, director of student activities and athletics programs for Fairfax County, spoke to the members at the Jan. 23 board work session of his concerns about the legislation.
"We expect more from our student-athletes, period. ... In that comes qualification to participate. The most basic is the Bona Fide Student Rule, which is what it's called in the Virginia High School League, which establishes that they are a full-time student at that school," Curran said. "That essentially says you don't get to pick and choose where you go, when you go, how you go. We expect you to be a student at that school because athletics plays into that, it dovetails into the academics side of things."
He also talked about how allowing home-schooled students to play might develop an unfair playing field because in-school students would have to attend school all day and fulfill any requirements during the school day or after it before participating in practices or games.
Elizabeth Schultz, the lone school board member to show support for the legislation before the General Assembly, said the board should look forward to what this bill would mean for students who take advantage of the school systems' online courses.
"This school board cannot, in watching you over the last year, advocate with one hand online classes and pushing online classes and creating a virtual classroom, and at the same time deny those kids athletics," she said. "I think we're going to have to deal with the definition of what community is and I think it's changing in front of our eyes."