Should NJ home-schooled kids be part of school sports and plays?
TRENTON – Home-schooled students in New Jersey would be able to sign up for extracurricular activities in what would have been their school district, under a bill advancing through the Assembly.
Right now, access is decided by each school district. But A1041, endorsed last week by the Assembly Education Committee, would require all districts to allow it, taking away local decision-making.
Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said home-schooling “has been put on a real turbo-boost” during the pandemic but that unless they have access to extracurriculars, kids are cut off from things like sports and school plays.
“An orchestra, for example, is not something you can replicate in your living room, something that a homeschool student should have access to.”
John Burns, senior legislative counsel for the New Jersey School Boards Association says it should remain an option for schools, not a mandate forced on them.
“Each district and each community should be able to determine this issue for themselves,” Burns said.
Jennie Lamon, assistant director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, said it should remain optional because the bill doesn’t provide enough oversight to make sure it’s not exploited.
“And it would just be inequitable and unfair to public school students if another group of students is gaining eligibility under a different set of rules,” Lamon said.
"Public school students should have first shot at participation,” she said. “Indeed, they have chosen this setting and all that it has to offer.”
Webber said the opposition is mostly about “administrative and bureaucratic concerns” – and that what’s fair is to open up access to students and their families, “who pay a lot in property taxes to their local school districts and don’t use any of the services presently.”
“Allowing those students to participate in football or drama or orchestra I think is just fair to again the kids and the families,” Webber said.
Assemblyman Erik Simonsen, the athletic director at Lower Cape May Regional High School, said his district lets home-schooled students participate – and that eligibility rules around attendance and grades don’t exactly apply to them.
“I’ve had parents drop off handwritten transcripts and such so that their kid could play, while other kids were not able to participate due to their grades,” Simonsen said. “That’s where the real divide is. That’s where the unfairness comes in.”
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, said it’s complicated to assess whether home-schooled students are meeting standards.
“I think it opens up a whole world of questions regarding the effectiveness of homeschool,” Caputo said. “Some people could take advantage of home school and not really home school.”
Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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