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November / December 2005

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Homeschoolers can compete on private school teams

On July 19, 2005, the Maryland Board of Education ended six months of turmoil by adopting a new rule allowing homeschooled students to compete on private school sports teams.

For many years, homeschoolers had been allowed to play on the sports teams of willing private schools without adverse consequences. In January 2005, however, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association (MPSSAA), which includes many private schools, announced that in the future, private schools would lose their eligibility to compete in MPSSAA events if they allowed homeschoolers on their teams.

Shocked homeschooling parents swung into action and filed suit in federal court against the MPSSAA, alleging violations of state and federal law. The parents asked Judge Frederick Motz to make an immediate decision via a motion for summary judgment. In response, the judge said during a court session that he thought the new MPSSAA policy was unjustifiable unless homeschoolers receive an inferior education.

Carlos Sandoval, the attorney representing the parents, asked for Home School Legal Defense Association's assistance in proving that homeschoolers receive an excellent education. Rushing to meet Judge Motz's short deadline, HSLDA Attorney Scott Woodruff prepared a 68-page affidavit documenting the success of homeschooling.

Convinced, the judge instructed the MPSSAA to come up with a way for homeschool students to play on private school teams. The rules and standards of competition adopted July 19 were the result.

Some of the new standards of competition require a homeschool student to:

  • be affiliated with and represent the private school during the entire school year;
  • refrain from representing more than one school during one academic year unless the student's primary residence changes;
  • comply with the private school's own requirements; and
  • be homeschooled pursuant to Maryland homeschool regulations.

Some of the new standards require the private school to:

  • obtain written permission from the parents for their child to play on the team;
  • make sure each student has passed a medical exam;
  • make sure each student is "registered" in a "bona fide" home instruction program as defined in the Maryland homeschool regulations;
  • ensure that each student makes "educational progress" in all required subjects while on the team; and
  • permit homeschool students to compete in no more than four seasons from the 9th through the 12th grades.

Additionally, if a student enrolled in a private school becomes ineligible to compete because of academic or disciplinary reasons, enrollment in a homeschool program does not remove the ineligibility.

While not perfect (for example, homeschoolers do not "register," they simply file a notice), the standards of competition reopen the door that was slammed shut in January and pave the way for homeschoolers to resume participation on private school teams.

Kindergarten exemption trouble

Maryland law allows families to exempt their kindergarteners from compulsory attendance. This gives them one extra year before they need to file their notice of consent with the school district.

This school year, Home School Legal Defense Association member families in Baltimore County and Saint Mary's County filed kindergarten exemptions using HSLDA's sample letter, which contains all of the information required under the Code of Maryland Regulations. The regulations also require that the school district approve the exemption request in writing within five working days from the date of receipt.

However, both counties demanded that the families request their exemptions on official school district forms, which contained unnecessary questions.

HSLDA called the school officials in both counties and explained that the families had complied with the regulations and did not need to use the school districts' forms. The two districts immediately backed down and granted the kindergarten exemptions.

Baltimore retreats from intrusive form

The director of the Office of Special Projects for Baltimore City Public Schools recently sent a letter to homeschooling parents demanding that they fill out and return a form entitled "Verification of Continuation of Homeschooling."* The form demanded private information, including the birth date and grade level of each child in the family.

HSLDA called the director and explained that families do not need to use the school district's form-or any form-when they provide their annual verification. The verification can be as simple as a letter stating the child's and parents' names and their intention to continue homeschooling.

We also explained that families who homeschool under an umbrella school give their annual verification to the umbrella, not the school district.

The director, admitting she was wrong, said that she would not require families to use the Baltimore City Public Schools form. She assured us that next year the letter would only be sent to families under the portfolio review option, and it would clarify that use of the school district form is optional.

— by Scott A. Woodruff

* See "A plethora of forms."