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Sports-for-Homeschoolers Bill Has Best Marketing, Loses Debate on Law and Double Standard

The debate that consumed the largest chunk of the House’s time yesterday afternoon was over House Bill 1120, which would require all public school districts to allow homeschool students to participate in SDHSAA activities.

Rep. Sue Peterson: "Let the children play!"
Rep. Sue Peterson: “Let the children play!”

For nearly a full hour, homeschool supporters and public school slammers (yes, there were subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on the integrity of our public K-12 administrators and teachers) dominated the floor with arguments about fairness, parental control, taxpayer rights, superior home-school teaching and test performance, and opportunities for all children. Prime sponsor Rep. Sue Peterson (R-13/Sioux Falls) and her supporters punctuated their speeches with the well-chosen marketing line, “Let the children play!” Homeschool dad Rep. Tom Brunner (R-29/Nisland) said it was time for the walls between public school and high school “to be tore down.” Rep. John Mills (R-4/Volga) accused unnamed public school advocates of “bullying” and told the heartfelt story of kids from a tiny Christian school in Volga getting to ride the bus with public school kids and making everyone in the district happier.

Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) won the emotional debate with her story of coaching 4th- through 8th-grade girls basketball and letting a little homeschool girl practice with her team. The homeschool girl was shy and knew nothing about basketball, but Coach May saw her public school girls become coaches themselves, welcoming the new girl and helping her learn basketball basics. Then the big mean school super barged in an told Coach May the homeschool girls couldn’t practice with her team. Coach May took a stand: the homeschool girl stays and plays, or I walk. Given the lack of replacement coaches, the super caved, the homeschool stayed and played, and she and her team went on to be Badlands conference champs. And to beat all that, the year after she started playing, that shy girl enrolled in public school. Everybody wins! (Well, everybody except for the kids May’s team beat at the Badlands championship….)

Coach May’s story is a ready-for-TV movie. Anyone who would vote against that shy little girl turned basketball champ deserves three levels of hell and no chislic rations.

But vote against it a majority did. HB 1120 failed 28–38. Overcoming all the emotion of the homeschool advocates story was a simple argument advanced by attorney Rep. Mike Stevens (R-19/Yankton) and judge Rep. Tim Johns (R-30/Lead). Under HB 1120, a homeschooler’s eligibility for SDHSAA activities depended on complying with SDCL 13-27-3, the statute allowing students to skip public school and do homeschool. That statute requires homeschoolers to receive instruction “so as to lead to a mastery of the English language” and to take a standardized test in fourth grade, eighth grade, and eleventh grade. HB 1120 would have made it impossible for schools to impose any sort of academic eligibility rules that public high school students must satisfy (no pass, no play). Rep. Stevens said HB 1120 would hold 13,306 public school activities participants to higher standards than homeschool players. In his imperious judge voice, Rep. Johns called that double standard and the absence of any verification of academic success for homeschool players a “fatal flaw.” He said playing sports and playing the orchestra is a privilege, not a right, and that HB 1120 was “reverse discrimination” against public school students.

Stevens responded to the HB 1120 marketing line by saying, “They can play” but by homeschooling, they choose not to. And for the several-th time in a debate that has raged since 2003, the Legislature chose not to dictate to local schools whether they must allow homeschoolers to participate in public school extracurriculars.


  1. mike from iowa 2018-02-13 08:16

    Totally surprised wingnuts shot this idea down. Good for them, for once.

  2. Donald Pay 2018-02-13 11:28

    I understand the issue regarding eligibility requirements, but I think there could be a way to work around this. Maybe some required yearly standardized testing if a home school student wanted to participate in public school sports. Rep. May’s experience is one that I think is important. That girl enrolled in public school the next year. If I think my school provides the best education and services to students, I want them in the door. Let them sample what public schools have to offer. If I can get home school students in the door for sports, or debate or newspaper (do they still have those?), I should have enough confidence in the public schools and public school students that the experience will sell them on enrolling.

  3. owen reitzel 2018-02-13 13:34

    Steven’s is right. These people chose to home school.
    Nothing is being taken n away from them

  4. Joe Nelson 2018-02-13 19:31

    This just further illustrates for me that sports has no place in public education and academics. If local towns and districts formed sports teams and clubs, then it would not matter where a child was educated. If a kid is dummy, why should that prevent him from playing a sport he or she excels at? Do we really want to use sports as the carrot and stick to encourage kids to learn?

    We would also not be sticking our teachers with responsibilities of coaching a sport (and likewise not be sticking students with a great coach who is stuck teaching).

  5. John 2018-02-14 00:19

    Joe Nelson – amen. The world’s leading nations in education do not have sports in school. Period. Sports are in clubs in those nations. School must focus on scholarship.
    High school activities association is an oxymoron.

  6. Donald Pay 2018-02-14 08:26

    Anyone can bitch about sports in public education, but I don’t see any of the bitchers forming alternative leagues that would serve kids from all economic and religious backgrounds. In reading a little bit about the history of school sports, larger cities with large immigrant populations viewed sports in school as a means to occupy children after school while teaching “American values,” such as competition, fair play, etc. If you want to blame anything for the growth of sports in schools, blame the competitive spirit, because once you form a sports club or team, you are going to challenge others to a game. I have to say that soccer leagues did a great job to get soccer going as a major sport, but that was because schools refused to take up soccer for many, many years.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-02-14 09:40

    There are ways to handle eligibility requirements, Donald, and local school districts appear to be finding them. Absent some major civil rights issue, let that local control ride.

    Dropping extracurriculars and leaving sports to private clubs would solve this problem completely… but it would then create problems for all low-income students, who would lose the opportunity to participate in sports provided at no direct cost on the taxpayer dime. But as Rep. Johns said, sports are a privilege, not a right.

  8. LARRY LUCAS 2018-02-14 10:27

    This issue is about allowing home schooled students an equal opportunity with the public school students to compete for scholarships in music and athletics. I believe the issue will be back. I say if they want a scholarship then they need to walk the halls of the public schools. Public schools have zero bullying policies and will allow any student to have their freedom to pray or express a religious belief. Nothing is perfect, but the competition for academics and athletics by all students can make public schools better. If science education is the wild card reason for home schools avoiding public education, then lets have a open and honest discussion regarding the teaching of science in today’s environment. We know the world is round, that planet earth is 4.5 billion years old, humans in some form have been around for 5 to 7 million years, and the earth is warming largely due to human activities. Avoiding public education because you do not want to believe modern science is not the answer.

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