Issues Library—State & Local
Sports and Public School Classes
Homeschool athletes can participate in homeschool and recreational leagues around the country, as well as some private school leagues. One of the biggest debates in the past several years, however, has been whether or not to allow homeschoolers equal access to public school sports leagues.
Do Homeschoolers Have Equal Access to Public School Sports?
Currently, 22 states give homeschoolers the right to some type of access to classes or sports. These include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. Read more information about state laws on HSLDA’s legal summaries pages.1
Homeschooler participation in public school activities is usually subject to certain requirements, which are often part of the school’s policy and the state high school athletic association’s bylaws. Although specific requirements vary from state to state, they generally include: 1) being in compliance with the state homeschool law, 2) meeting the same eligibility requirements (residence, age, etc.) as public school students, and 3) submitting verification that the student is passing his or her core subjects. Consequently, the homeschooler may have to provide additional information, such as achievement test scores or periodic academic reports, even if the state’s homeschool statute does not otherwise require them.
In states that do not have a specific statute or regulation mandating equal access, individual schools and school districts have the authority to determine whether homeschoolers can participate in public school activities. Policies often vary from district to district. In some cases, districts that would like to allow access are restricted from doing so by the high school athletic association's bylaws.
What Do the Courts Say?
Various parties have litigated to allow private and homeschool students equal access to public school sports. Some of the constitutional arguments used include:
1) Refusing non-public students access to part-time classes denies them due process in their property interest in the free public education provided for by state constitutions;
2) Non-public school students excluded from part-time activities are unjustifiably discriminated against, denying these students their right to equal protection under the law;
3) If a student is not enrolled in public school because of a sincere religious belief, his right to the free exercise of his religious beliefs is burdened by the prohibition of access to public school activities.
The courts have routinely struck down these constitutional claims, saying that a district’s refusal to allow part-time access does not violate any constitutional rights and that the school districts have the right to set eligibility requirements for participation in their own activities. Most courts have held that public school administrators have a rational basis for not accepting non-students, due to limited resources, fair competition, and control over activities for which administrators are responsible.2 One of the main concerns is the state’s basis for upholding a certain academic standard for all students participating in athletics.3 Homeschoolers thus have two options: 1) petition their local school districts for access, or 2) petition state legislatures to open schools to homeschool access (the latter tends to meet with greater success).4
What are the Cons of Equal Access?
Many public school officials oppose giving homeschoolers equal access to sports for various reasons, including:
1) Allowing homeschool students to play sports would shortchange the public school students who work hard for grades. As one Virginia high school league said, homeschoolers would be “playing by a different set of rules.”
2) Homeschoolers might crowd out public schools students.
3) Homeschoolers have chosen to opt out of the public education system, which also entails forgoing certain privileges.5
Some homeschoolers often oppose equal access as well. They argue that:
1) Government services always come with strings attached. Homeschoolers should not accept government services such as public school sports unless they are willing to be subject to governmental requirements.
2) Paying taxes that support government programs does not automatically give homeschoolers the right to participate in these programs, i.e. adults with no children also pay to support schools.
What are the Arguments for Participation?
Those in favor of equal access tend to advance one or more of the following arguments:
1) Homeschool families pay the taxes that fund public schools. Just as it is unacceptable to exclude homeschoolers from publicly funded areas such as libraries, hospitals, and parks, so it is unacceptable to exclude homeschoolers from public school programs.
2) Increasing access to sports will increase the number of people who will pursue home education.
3) Homeschool students should not be denied the economic and career advantages available to public school students if homeschoolers meet the same qualifications.
4) Parents should be allowed to choose public school activities if it is best for their children.
Homeschoolers who are interested in participation in public school activities should check their state statutes and contact their state athletic association to see if equal access laws apply to them. If you live in a state that does not allow homeschoolers equal access, we encourage you to investigate some of the homeschool and recreational sports leagues that exist around the nation.
1. Batista, Paul J. and Lance C. Hatfield. (Summer 2005). Learn at Home, Play at School: A State-by-State Examination of Legislation, Litigation, and Athletic Association Rules Governing Public School Athletic Participation by Homeschool Students. Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport. Retrieved via West Law.
2. For more information on the legal background of homeschoolers and equal access to sports, see: Gardner, Kathryn and Allison J. McFarland. (Winter 2001). Legal Precedents and Strategies Shaping Home Schooled Students' Participation in Public School Sports. Journal of Legal Aspects of Sports. Retrieved via West Law.
3. For analysis of the rational basis test and an argument that homeschoolers should be allowed equal access to school sports, see: Roberts, Joshua. (January 2009). Dispelling the Rational Basis for Homeschooler Exclusion from High School Interscholastic Activities. Journal of Law and Education. Retrieved via West Law.