Sports Participation Granted with Public Schools
“A dream come true!” That is how some Oregon home schoolers reacted when learning about a law enacted recently by the Oregon State Legislature. Gary Lineburg, a home school parent, spearheaded the legislation to allow home schoolers to participate with public school students in interscholastic activities (competitions between schools in sports, music, debate, etc.) The bill passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the legislature, and received Governor Barbara Roberts’ signature in time for the policy to take effect by the start of the 1991–92 school year.
In all states except Washington and now Oregon, a family’s decision to home school means they are unable to participate in interscholastic activities without additional school or state requirements. It is a sacrifice that most home-schooling families gladly make because of their commitment to home education.
However, competition in interscholastic activities is widely considered an important part of the educational process. The Oregon School Activities Association, which oversees the state’s activities programs, refers to interscholastic activities as “the other half of education.” And while participating in activities with the public school may not be for every home school family, there are many parents who want their children to benefit from the learning experiences these activities provide. In many cases the opportunity to participate in sports is the reason many home schoolers, who would otherwise continue to home school, choose to attend public high school.(In the lower grades, sports teams are often organized by city programs or organizations such as Little League.)
Gary Lineburg spoke informally with HSLDA’s Michael Farris at the 1988 National Home School Convention in Portland about the likelihood of a successful legal challenge to the state’s denial of home schoolers’ participation in public school activities. Mr. Farris told him that he felt passing a law in the state legislature was more likely to succeed than a legal challenge through the courts. At first the legislative approach seemed a long shot. Word had been received from the state activities association that no state in the country allowed home school participation in public school activities. But then it was learned that a home schooler in the state of Washington was in fact participating in public high school sports. Contact was made with the family and the high school principal, both confirming that Washington did have a public school/home school activities policy that was working well. Armed with the knowledge that a precedent existed for home schooler participation in interscholastic activities, the Lineburgs decided to pursue the passage of a similar law in Oregon.
God’s hand was apparent throughout the legislative process. He brought together a number of outstanding students and parents who participated in state hearings on the bill. The parents articulated their commitment to home schooling while expressing their desire to participate in the state’s interscholastic activities program which they support with their tax dollars. Particularly effective was the testimony of the high-school principal from Washington state. He assured the lawmakers that the policy was workable and beneficial to everyone involved: the home schooler, the public school students, and the community as a whole. God also granted editorial endorsements from two of Oregon’s most prominent newspapers.
The entire process served to promote a positive awareness of home schooling. Many legislators took the opportunity during the floor debate of the bill to acknowledge the academic success of home schoolers and to argue for their right to participate in interscholastic activities. The favorable response of the legislators was due in great measure to the years of vigilance by the Parents Education Association, with the support of the Oregon Christian Home Education Association Network, in enacting and maintaining the present home school law. On several o11ccasions, over 1,000 home school parents and students were mobilized to show support for home school legislation at the state capital.
As expected, opposition came from the state’s activities organization and education associations. However, the overriding value of interscholastic activities to a student’s education was shown to be too important to deny to the state’s home school population. Even legislators who were not enthusiastic about home schooling in general, supported the activities bill because they felt the home schoolers would benefit from participating in the larger public school setting.
The fruit of the passage of the bill goes beyond the opportunity for home schoolers to participate in interscholastic activities. As a result of exposing legislators to home-schooling issues, home education is being viewed more and more as a recognized educational alternative. As such, home schoolers are being granted rights and privileges accorded the private schools in Oregon.
The Oregon law is based solely on the requirements presently governing home schooling in the state. By not entertaining additional regulations the existing home-schooling law is safeguarded. It was felt that the requirements which had been established to govern the educational achievement of home schoolers were certainly adequate to govern participation in interscholastic activities.
Two provisions were built into the bill to protect against possible abuses of the activities policy.
First, language was included to prevent public school students from using home schooling as a way to continue participating in interscholastic activities after becoming academically ineligible in the public school. Any public school student who is failing will be ineligible to participate as a home school student for the rest of that year and the following year.
Second, to discourage recruiting by different schools, a home schooler may participate in interscholastic activities with only the school in his attendance boundary.
These safeguards were key components that assured the legislators that the new interscholastic activities policy would not threaten existing eligibility standards of the public schools.
It should be noted that Oregon’s new activities policy extends to grade and middle schools as well as high schools. Previously, each district determined whether or not they would allow home schooler participation in grade and middle schools.
This new policy does not, however, permit home schoolers to participate in private school sports activities (including Christian schools). Oregon home schoolers may address this point during the next legislative session.
Michael Farris has noted that several states are in a position to make a similar attempt to gain access to interscholastic activities. Gary Lineburg has offered his assistance in their efforts. He may be contacted at: 4045 Oak Street, Eugene, Oregon 97405 or by calling (503) 484-4445.