RICHMOND -- Home-schooled students in Virginia could participate in public-school sports under the “Tebow bill” that has been passed by the House of Delegates and will be considered by a Senate committee this week.
Delegates voted 56-43 for the measure, which will be heard by the Senate Health and Education Committee on Thursday.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, would require public schools to allow home-schoolers to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Many parents who home-school their children support the legislation, which is nicknamed for NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who played football for his local high school while being home-schooled in Florida.
“I should be able to choose whether my kids play sports or not,” said Brad Foster, a father of five athletic home-schooled boys in Culpeper.
Currently in Virginia, no student who is being educated at home can join a public-school sports team. Families with home-schooled athletes like Foster’s must find other ways to participate in sports or opt out of playing sports completely.
Foster said the opportunity for his children to play sports went away once they reached middle school. To allow his children to play sports, Foster has organized a basketball team. However, that’s expensive because home-schooling families must rent gym space, whereas public schools provide facilities for sports teams, Foster said.
“We want to use the privilege because we also pay taxes for [public schools],” Foster said.
Virginia has more than 32,000 home-schoolers, including about 8,000 at the high school level, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Albemarle County, for example, has more than 500 home-schoolers.
Ethan Keyser, 17, of Albemarle, is a home-schooler who plays football and lacrosse.
“I would like the opportunity to try out on a high school athletic team,” Ethan said.
Until high school, he played both sports through various recreation teams, according to his father, Matt Keyser. Now that Ethan is older, he cannot play either sport except during the off-season.
During the off-season, Ethan was asked to play for several traveling high-school-level lacrosse teams, Matt Keyser said.
“He’s 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, and every coach he has ever played for said they wished Ethan could play during the regular season,” Keyser said.
Ethan is now looking to apply to college. “It would’ve looked good on my college transcripts to have said that I played several high school sports,” he said.
In the House, Republicans generally supported the legislation and Democrats mostly opposed it.
Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, for instance, both voted against bill.
“The public school system is not an a la carte menu that you can pick and choose what you want to participate in,” McClellan said. She said the Tebow bill raises a “matter of fairness.”
“One worry is that you would have a situation where a youngster in a public school was denied to participate because a home-schooler took their spot,” he said.
If the Senate committee approves the bill, it will then go to the full Senate for a vote.
An identical measure had been filed in the Senate by Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, but Garrett withdrew his proposal.