Home-schooled students deserve equal opportunities to play on public sports teams

Currently, 31 states have passed equal access legislation, allowing home-schooled students to become members of public school sports teams, according to the Tim Tebow Bill website. Regrettably, New York State is not one of them. Despite how parents choose to educate their children, denying home-schooled children the chance to participate in sports with their peers is cruel and unnecessarily harsh. 

According to Times Union, “homeschooling families note that they are taxpayers. Why should their children be excluded from the government-funded opportunities available to other children?” This is a valid argument and one of the main reasons home-schooled children should be able to participate on school sports teams. If parents are paying taxes to their local public school district, their children should be allowed to enjoy the benefits of that district, whether they attend school there or not.

Robert Zayas, the executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association claims, however, that by choosing to home-school their children, parents are forfeiting opportunities for their kids to play sports and, consequently, experience the camaraderie and sportsmanship that come with being on a team. Depriving a child of such a critical life experience, however, could significantly hinder their social development. Allowing a child to play on a sports team should not be an earth-shattering conflict, but deciding whether or not to impair a child’s social skills should be. 

Perhaps the real issue here is not about parents who home-school and what they agree to sacrifice, but rather, how we consider and treat athletics in public school districts. For many, sports come before academics. 

We tend to idolize high school athletics, as Houston County Superintendent Tim Pitchford’s ill-informed remarks demonstrate. In arguing against equal access, he pointed out, “Home-school students have extra time to practice.”

This alludes to the fact that parents may choose to home-school their children in order to give them an unfair advantage in athletics, which is insulting and disrespectful. It is straying further from the crux of the issue here: in reality, a percentage of parents who home-school chose to do so because their child wasn’t excelling in the standard school curriculum. Yet, because we place such a strong emphasis on the importance of school sports, people like Pitchford are inclined to believe in these ulterior motives for homeschooling. 

Although there is a ban in some states on whether these children can participate in schools sports, Times Union reports, “there is no such ban on homeschooled children participating in non-athletic extracurricular activities. Districts get to make the choice.” 

There should be no difference in how we treat sports and other extra-curricular activities; both foster social interactions and relaxation. Again, the difference is in how we conceptualize sports, as if they are some magical entity that gives meaning and direction to children’s lives.

Only as of late has home-schooling become legal in all 50 states. Since then, it has been an increasingly popular choice for parents, with more than double the number of kids being schooled at home than 15 years ago, according to the Tim Tebow Bill website. 

Letting a child play on a team with their peers will not hurt nor hinder anyone else’s education. Preventing a child from doing so, however, can have long-term effects. States must recognize that school sports are beneficial for children, especially in regard to their social well-being, and that home-schooled students deserve the same right to participate.