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January 19, 2010

Going on the Offense: HSLDA Sues Florida Athletic Association

On January 13, 2010, HSLDA filed a lawsuit against Florida High School Athletic Association because of its unjustified refusal to allow a homeschool student to play sports for a private school.

In 1997, the Florida legislature passed the Craig Dickinson Act. This provision, which allows homeschoolers to participate in the sports programs of public schools and accommodating private schools, is most known for assisting to launch the career of well-known University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. In addition to Tebow, many homeschoolers across the state have benefited from this statute. Last fall, however, one member family ran into difficulty when the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) prevented their son from playing on the rationale that he had been recruited to play for his local private school. Yet in the same meeting, the board approved the eligibility of other students in identical circumstances who were not homeschooled.

For the past several years, Caleb Brown (name changed to protect privacy), a homeschooled student, has played soccer with a local private school. He has also played on a summer club team. When the private school he had been participating with discontinued their soccer program, he moved to a second local private school. However, because the director of the summer program is also the coach at the second school, Caleb, along with three other players who had participated in the summer club, needed to obtain a waiver from the FHSAA to be considered eligible. Two of the other students enrolled full-time in the private school, while Caleb and one other student remained being homeschooled, only wanting to participate in the soccer program.

The FHSAA executive director denied the waiver for the four boys to play on the soccer team, and the private school appealed the decision to the FHSAA Sectional Appeals Committee. On appeal, the committee approved the waivers for Caleb and the other homeschooled student, as well as for one of the students who enrolled in the private school. Not happy with being overruled, the executive director appealed this decision to the FHSAA board of directors, who heard all four cases last November.

At that meeting, the FHSAA approved waivers for the two students who enrolled in private school, but denied the waivers for the two who remained homeschooled. The circumstances and evidence for recruiting is identical in all four cases, and the only distinguishing feature between the students who obtained waivers and those who did not is homeschooling. During the hearing, at least one member of the board admitted that homeschooling was the distinguishing feature.

The Brown family contacted HSLDA about their denial, and we attempted to discuss the situation with the FHSAA. However, the FHSAA refused to reconsider or alter its decision. HSLDA filed our complaint on Caleb’s behalf on January 13, 2010.