Let Them Play Sports!

I am angry. And this is confusing, because I am not usually angry, or at least, not used to being angry at the people I’m angry at and defensive of the people I’m feeling defensive of. It’s this.

The Virginia Senate Education Committee has narrowly rejected a bill that would allow home-schooled students to play sports at public schools. … When one home-school advocate complained about not having access to public school sports paid for by his taxes, Sen. Richard Saslaw retorted, “You pay taxes that also go to purchase an F-22 fighter, that doesn’t mean you get to fly it.”

The reason?

The Fairfax County Democrat said parents “knew the ground rules when you opted to home school your kids” and made that choice.

Aaaaaaand, that’s why I’m angry.

Look, we’re talking about the kids here. Sure, the parents chose to homeschool, but the kids don’t usually have a choice in the matter. This is sort of like telling poor parents “you knew what you were getting into when you decided to have kids even though you’re poor, so no, you don’t get government assistance.” I mean, really? Kids born to poor kids deserve the same chance as everyone else, regardless of what you think of their parents’ choices.

I didn’t have any choice in being homeschooled, which I was, from kindergarten through high school. I lived in one of the 21 states that don’t let kids participate in public school sports. My parents decided they wanted my brothers to do sports, so they looked around for options. For a while they were driving three hours, round trip, to participate in a homeschool track team. This was just too much, so they ended up finding a public high school in the area that had one sport listed as a “club” rather than as a “team,” a loophole that allowed them to participate. One of my brothers had dreamed for years of a career as a military officer, and if it weren’t for that loophole that door would probably have been shut to him.

These kids are real people. They’re not some abstraction. They shouldn’t have to suffer being shut out of opportunities to do sports just because their parents chose to homeschool them. Homeschooled kids, especially those homeschooled for religious reasons, deserve every chance for socialization and interaction with public schooled kids that they can get.

Perhaps what upset me the most was the spiteful attitude of some of the commenters at Joe. My. God. There was this:

I agree with them. If you want to play football, go to a real school, pass your classes and compete with other students to be there.

And this:

When one home-school advocate complained about not having access to public school sports paid for by his taxes, Sen. Richard Saslaw retorted, “You pay taxes that also go to purchase an F-22 fighter, that doesn’t mean you get to fly it.”

Yup. And the taxes paid by many of us who don’t have children still go to support schools. That’s the way a society works.

And this:

The same people who complain about not having access to public school sports due to THEIR choice to home school their kids, knowing all too well the ground rules of said choice, have no problem to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, arguing that gay people have “a choice” to marry someone of the opposite sex and that marriage equality is a “special right” claimed by “special interest groups”. Typical Christian double standard.

And this:

The benefits of public schools, are also about social integration and teaching children how to get along with each other. However, half in and half out, can’t cut it. If there aren’t any AYSO or off campus sports or other programs in which the kid can get some training or experience, then form one?

And this:

They’ve opt out of the system, they can’t just selectively opt-in. Moreover, sports programs often have fees and are vulnerable to budget cuts (although music, art, school nurses and school psychologists usually get the heave-ho sooner).

And perhaps this hurt most because these are people who are supposed to be on “my team.” Suddenly I feel like I’m twelve years old again, jumpers and pigtails and all, and they’re pointing and laughing. They don’t care about me. They’re out to spite my parents, and it doesn’t matter if I get caught in the crossfire.

And so, I am angry.

To those who suggest that homeschoolers go elsewhere for sports, it’s not that simple. There are plenty of community leagues for younger kids, but those things generally phase out by the time kids are high school age because of the assumption that kids will participate in sports at their schools. Sure, homeschoolers could start their own teams, but that would mean having a parent with the ability to coach and someone willing to take on the responsibility of organizing them. And besides that, who would they play? Further, you’d have to have a huge population of homeschooled students to have enough to form actual teams. I lived in an area with a lot of homeschoolers, and still we didn’t have our own teams.

With all of that out of the way, I have to ask. Why can’t homeschooled kids opt in for some aspects of the public school system? Why do we hold up the fiction that it has to be all or nothing?

Money. Yes, there is the money issue. I get it, I really do, but you know what? I really resent the lawmaker’s quip about F-22s, and you know why? Because there are plenty of good reasons to keep a civilian from flying an F-22, but there are absolutely zero good reasons to keep a homeschooled student from playing sports at her local public school. Homeschool parents pay the same amount in property taxes as everyone else, and that tax money is earmarked for educating children. Why refuse to to let any of that money contribute to the education of homeschooled students, especially when they’re simply asking to opt into programs already open to public schooled students?

I do understand the issue on an individual school level, though. While the overall money available for education does not change when a student drops out of the public schools to be homeschooled, the amount of money a given school receives is based on the number of pupils the school has. So even though homeschool parents pay property taxes like everyone else, a given school has not been given funding to education the homeschool students in the area. But why not let the schools also receive funding based on what services homeschooled students make use of? Or, why not let homeschooled parents enroll their children in public school sports for a fee to cover the extra expense?

Finally, some have pointed out that kids are required to keep their grades up in order to play sports. Then why not require homeschooled students to pass some sort of test in order to participate in sports? The goal of requiring students to keep their grades up, as I understand it, is to ensure that students are not focusing on sports at the expense of academics. I don’t see why it’s not possible to ensure this with homeschooled kids as well.

In the end, I simply see no good reason not to let homeschooled students participate in public school sports, and plenty of really good reasons to let them. And the fact that 29 states do allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sports tells me that it can be done.

So fine! Vote against letting homeschooled kids participate in public school sports! Pat yourselves on the back for pulling one over on those crazy homeschoolers! Feel all self righteous why don’t you! But while you do that, I’ll be the one thinking of the victims caught in the crossfire, the freckled and pigtailed homeschooled children who lack any say in the matter.

"English, some conversational French, and a little Ukrainian."

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