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One Problem... And One Possible Solution
This article, by Peggy Daly-Masternak, was originally published in the July-August 1997 issue of Home Education Magazine.
Over the years, defining questions for homeschoolers have sounded like this:
In the 1970's...
"What will I say to a truant officer who may come to my door?"
In the 1980's...
"What will I say to my mother-in-law when she asks about my
children's social opportunities?"
Now, in the 1990's...
"What will I say to my child when she or he asks about playing sports?"
How far we've come. Well... maybe. Oh, don't get me wrong. It's great that I don't have to fear each time an unfamiliar car goes past my house; and frankly, I personally never had the urgency to become concerned about those family or friends who questioned what we were doing.
But, I do have a child who learned to read by rehashing with me the baseball box scores from the daily paper... and I mean every day. He still does.
Quite simply, Ben eats breakfast with the baseball reporters of the Toledo Blade. So, question three is coming my way. It has already. But you can bet that my response will not be, "Let's see if we can write legislation that will get you eligible for the local high school baseball program."
I have come to find that a handful of other homeschoolers, both here in Ohio and across the country, are pursuing their local school districts, departments of education, and legislatures, forcing statutes for the right not only to play sports, but for "core" classes, extracurricular activities, even scholarships and diplomas. And sometimes, the results are much more than homeschoolers may have bargained for.
A Little Ohio History
During the 1996 legislative session, a legislator who happens to homeschool introduced a bill here in Ohio that would have allowed homeschoolers the choice to play sports and have access to other extracurricular activities provided by the public schools. It would have forced school districts and the OHSAA (the governing body for high school athletics) to revise their code, which currently prohibits unenrolled students admission to teams.
Ohio homeschooling, as we know it, is not governed by statute. We work with 1989 regulations developed by an appointed committee in response to a resolution from the Department of Education. The one provision for home instruction in the Ohio law was written in 1953 and provides for an incapacitated student. If the incapacitation was temporary, when it was resolved, that student was expected to return to school.
Most Ohio homeschoolers have found the homeschooling regulations that were adopted in 1989 to be reasonable; perhaps in some ways inferior to a few other states, but markedly superior to the majority. Testing is an option; there is no requirement for tedious record-keeping or attendance records; there is no required curriculum.
And, up until now, interested Ohio homeschoolers have been working out arrangements with their local school superintendent for sharing services - locally, individually, and unregulated by the state. Yes, there are still some unwelcoming bureaucrats in some districts. But you could respectfully try to work out difficulties, hope for a conciliatory replacement bureaucrat, or frankly, move if absolutely necessary - if sharing services was that important. Perhaps more satisfying, you could get creative with the many existing opportunities in your community - even for sports - which plenty of homeschoolers have found to be more than adequate.
Bartering for your heart's desires can prove extremely successful. A few chose, however, to legislate.
Many homeschoolers with various outlooks were unified last year in their opposition to the proposed "sports" bill. At least 70 turned out at Senate Education Committee hearings and stayed until midnight when opposition testimony was heard. Chiefly, their dissatisfaction with the bill was due to the potential for increased governmental regulation in many areas when school districts were forced to allow homeschoolers into their programs.
Many of us are aware of the initiatives that are coming down the road to "improve" education in our state, as well as the current requirements placed on enrolled students, both publicly and privately schooled. Proficiency tests are a big deal already in Ohio and School-To-Work is gaining momentum daily. Thanks, but no thanks.
Our concerns seemed justified considering the doubts expressed by some members of the Senate Education Committee. They found cause to question the potential motivation of some homeschoolers to manipulate the system for sports. Perceived lack of academic accountability was of great concern for them. From where I sat, a basic trust of parents and children was lacking as well.
During proponent testimony, two Senators had concentrated much of their questioning of the chief supporter of the bill on this issue of lack of academic accountability. They were very concerned that some homeschoolers could not be trusted to be honest - "the mere word of the parent." Under the pressure of questioning, the proponent made what I believe to be a grave error. She suggested to the committee that rather than let the bill die, if the committee had great concern about academic assessment for homeschoolers, that perhaps the State Board could take a look at the current regulations to discuss increasing the academic standards of the code for all homeschoolers.
Uh-Oh! The educational authorities, no zealots for homeschooling freedoms, could have a field day with this one. They, too, were in the audience.
Fortunately, the bill was tabled after opposition testimony and the legislative session ended. End of the story? Hardly. Within days of the beginning of a new session in January, 1997, and knowing of last year's opposition, another legislator was proposing an almost-identical bill at the request of "two or three" homeschoolers from his district. Although currently tabled, the bill, unfortunately has not been withdrawn.
Due to the introduction of this second bill, a potentially hazardous and unpredictable circumstance has occurred. The chairperson of the House Education Committee has now deemed it necessary to give this sports-for-homeschoolers issue a subcommittee of its very own, chaired by the legislator who proposed last year's version. Another layer of bureaucracy gets added.
At the very least, it means more scrutiny of homeschoolers; and more time spent attending to the legislative process. What other "homeschooling issues" may get committee assignment? What groups could be lobbying for their own agenda concerning homeschoolers? Sounds paranoid you say? We need to look no further than the current situation in a few other states.
A bill was introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives this year that would have greatly changed homeschooling requirements, placing many more restrictions on homeschoolers. The bill had many required provisions for parents, including: to have at least a baccalaureate degree; to provide for standardized testing; to provide semiannual progress assessments; to provide a curriculum; to provide immunization records and speech and hearing testing; to provide an annual assessment by a certified teacher; to provide for remedial instruction, among other things.
In addition, the legislature has resolved to create a Study Committee on Home Study Programs to, among other duties, research "home study programs, including a review of their effectiveness, an analysis of their shortcomings, and consideration of possible ways of improving and enhancing such programs..."
These actions on the part of the Georgia legislature were not solely the result of homeschoolers seeking access. Nonetheless, Terri Bryson of Atlanta Alternative Education Network feels "The increased legislative scrutiny can be attributed to a combination of many forces, all colliding at the same point in history. One of those forces is the direct result of homeschoolers seeking school services and school perks, such as extracurriculars, HOPE scholarships and diplomas."
Virginia Deals With Access Issues, Too
In Virginia, school-access bills for homeschoolers have been introduced during the last three legislative sessions. In 1995, one access bill for sports was introduced even though it was not sought by two state-wide support groups nor any local support groups. The measure was sought by and introduced at the behest of Michael Farris of the HSLDA, headquartered in Virginia. That bill was tabled in committee.
In 1996, Virginia legislators introduced two access bills, including a study resolution, both of which died in committee. Interestingly, one of the measures was sought by a private school parent desiring public school access and homeschooling was drawn into the bill.
In 1997, the Virginia Home Education Association, knowing that it was highly likely that legislative attempts would continue in this vein, took a position of being "cautiously amenable" to a well-crafted bill with assurance that homeschoolers who did not wish to participate would in no way be affected.
In fact, three access bills were introduced and a bill that the VHEA finds least problematic has passed. The bill permits local school divisions to receive partial funding for part-time enrollees in curricular classes, not extracurriculars. Access remains a local option. The VHEA is cautious and hopeful that no problems will arise.
Will Shaw of the VHEA states: "We recognize that some parents would want to have access. There are risks, and if legislators are going to continue to respond to their constituents, then the role of this state organization is to make sure that what happens represents the least risk to the most people. Nonetheless, our preference is for a local arrangement between the homeschooler and their school district. In this state anyway, that is achievable. However, most school divisions are not amenable."
She mentioned One Solution
In the area of sports, some would say that there are few alternatives. Ahhh, but have you heard of the AAU?
The Amateur Athletic Union, whose stated purpose is "Sports for All, Forever," was founded in 1888. From their brochure:
* AAU is the largest not-for-profit, volunteer managed, multi-sport organization in the United States dedicated solely to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.
* AAU is the only sports organization in the country which provides a multi-sport program for all age groups.
* The goal of the program is to enhance the complete athletic experience at the local, regional, and national levels and to provide organized athletic competition.
Each year, AAU conducts over 2,000 sporting events throughout the country.
Fifty-eight AAU Associations are chartered to operate within defined geographic territories. Their brochure lists opportunities in 33 different sports; annually, they sponsor the Junior Olympics where 10,000 athletes from 50 states participate in 23 different sports.
Past notable participants in the AAU program include Evelyn Ashford, Bart Conner, Mary Decker, Patrick Ewing, Anfernee Hardaway, Magic Johnson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Greg Louganis, Cheryl Miller, Shaquille O'Neal, Wilma Rudolph, Tracie Ruiz-Conforto, Mark Spitz, Kurt Thomas and Chris Webber.
Many local AAU sports programs are set up as club sports in which a group who wants to play as a team approaches the AAU for group membership. It is important to note, however, that at their annual convention in September, they plan to address the unique needs of the homeschooling community. They intend to make a formal presentation to the coaches and administrators attending the convention, as well as to nurture acceptance of the idea of individuals rather than ready-made teams approaching for the opportunity. In addition, there are tentative plans for a national homeschooling event to be held at the Disney World Sports Complex, exclusively for homeschoolers, in several sports.
Individual memberships in AAU are $10-12 per year and club memberships are $30 per year. It is a volunteer organization so parents and players would need to come to the opportunity with the expectation of actively participating in the success of the program in their community. Many communities have established flourishing multi-sport clubs depending on the interests and goals of those participating.
Ok, so there may be a down side at present. Possibly your sport of choice does not have a strong or even available program in your area. But homeschoolers have never let the challenges deter them from a desire and have pursued and achieved many "impossible dreams." I would suggest that the AAU would welcome your volunteerism in your community.
You can contact the Amateur Athletic Union c/o Walt Disney World Resort, P.O. Box 10,000, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000 or call at 407-934-7200 or 407-363-6170 for a brochure and the name of your regional association administrator.
Why Taxes Can't Be My Issue
So why risk subjecting current favorable regulation (an oxymoron?) to the legislative process? Some will raise the tax issue. If we were to apply a stringent argument for tax equity to the schools, then my widowed, childless neighbor and I would have the right to use the schools to brush up on our algebra, chemistry, or English. We, too, are taxpayers in our own right. An idea with potential merit, but completely unrealistic given the current well-entrenched educational system.
And if enrolled, could I make a valid argument in demanding that the family down the street with six children, all using the public schools, receive any less of a benefit because they have 300% more children than I?
The unfortunate truth is that many families cannot find their way to homeschooling. The economic challenges are too great for many. I would be hard pressed to abandon those children who are struggling by withdrawing my tax support - certainly not before several other enduring government systems were denied my monies first. There are plenty of services for which I am taxed and that I do not use nor condone.
Without a doubt, the tax system is inequitable to most. Nonetheless, I would never want to risk my right to homeschool my children according to my principles and force legislation because I'm a taxpayer. The risks of further control are far too great.
© Peggy Daly-Masternak
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