Controversial "Tebow" Bill Allows Homeschoolers to Play Sports in Public Schools

Family Matters on 03.06.12

Photo: Monica's Dad/Creative Commons

Homeschooled celebrity Tim Tebow -- famous for his role as a quarterback for the Denver Broncos and Heisman Trophy winner -- is making headlines once again, but this time not for his on-field performances: The "Tebow bill" (named with permission from Tebow himself), which gives homeschooled students the right to participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school, passed through the Virginia legislature in a 59 to 39 vote in February.

In his teens, Tebow was a star player at his own local public school; Florida, where Tebow grew up, is one of 25 states that currently gives homeschooled students access to public school sports teams. For homeschoolers who play non-team sports -- the future Venus and Serena Williamses, Michelle Kwans, and Bethany Hamiltons -- public school access isn't as critical. But homeschoolers who want to play lacrosse, football, and softball need the team, and therefore need the schools. Homeschooling parents feel they have the same rights to use the district and its resources as anyone else, but not all public school parents agree. 

Opponents of the bill worry that schools will be flooded by the tens of thousands of homeschooled students that live in Virginia. However, according to states already allowing equal access to homeschoolers, only 3% to 5% of all homeschooled students actually choose to participate--which amounts to only one or two students per district. Public schools are also worried that homeschooled students won't be held to the same academic elegibility requirements, that homeschoolers would be difficult to discipline, and that public school students will be displaced by homeschoolers who "steal" their spots. 

Academic Eligibility or Academic Unfairness?

As a homeschooling parent I disagree, and here's why. First, parents are concerned that homeschooled students are held to less of an academic standard then their public school peers -- and that's simply not true. In fact, most states require homeschoolers to take and pass state-mandated tests and submit reports of subjects and materials they cover. Plus, studies show that homeschoolers on average, score higher on standardized tests than their public school peers.

On the other hand, homeschoolers have the option of holding classes wherever and whenever they want, allowing students to move through materials at their own pace. This built-in flexibility may mean that a year-long Algebra course is completed in two months, or that their course load can be lightened during football season. But then the question isn't whether homeschoolers are held to the same standard, but rather, does the flexibility of homeschooling provide them with more opportunity to practice -- thereby giving them an "unfair" advantage over their peers?

The answer here is not complicated: Yes, they have an advantage, but I wouldn't call it unfair. Dedicated homeschool athletes can practice more, working on their skills during the school day, but being homeschooled doesn't inherently make you a fantastic athlete. Ultimately if you aren't naturally athletic, no amount of extra practice will turn you into a Tebow. And if you are naturally talented and the extra time does make you into a star player, a coach would be remiss if they didn't bring you onto the team as their "secret weapon". 

The Simple Answer to Discipline

Public schools parents are also worried about how coaches would discipline the homeschooled athlete when they break team rules or school policies, and the answer here is very simple: The same way you would any athlete. If they are disrespectful, miss practices, or slack off, then bench them, contact their parents, or turn to that old standby: assigning laps. The misconception is that homeschoolers lack the social skills to be able to understand how to act appropriately when placed in a group setting, but in fact, homeschoolers enjoy many social benefits, and interacting well with a variety of age groups and showing respect are among them.  

Equal Access

Public school parents believe their kids are more deserving of a place on the team than homeschoolers. But as residents and taxpayers of the same district, we are entitled to the same services as any other family -- we just choose not to opt into all of the offered services. Plus, districts are collecting thousands upon thousands of dollars from homeschooled kids whose parents don't exactly get a refund. So, if one or two homeschooled students want to use some of that money towards playing a sports, then why shouldn't they? 

Ultimately I have chosen to homeschool my kids not because I want to isolate and shelter them from the world, but because I want them to have unlimited social and educational experiences -- full of fun, adventure, and learning. I intentionally expose them to the world -- through visits to museums, trips around the country, after-school activities, and so much more. If my children want to play a team sport or try out for a school play one day, I would welcome the opportunity for them to participate through our local district. 

Sure, my child may at first feel like an outsider because she doesn't sit in the same classes or at the lunch table, but hey, that's the real world -- sometimes we feel left out. I believe that public schools and homeschoolers are not enemies -- they are neighbors. These are the same kids my children swim with at the local pool, take dance lessons with, and see at the park. So, if being a part of a school team is the best opportunity for my kids to enjoy and participate in the world of sports, then I say "Go Team Go!" 

Top Articles on Homeschooling
10 Reasons You Might Hate Homeschooling (And How to Get Past Them) 
Study Finds Homeschoolers Test Better Than Public School Students
10 Must-Read Books for Homeschoolers