After considerable discussion and listening to a member of the public speak, the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education voted 5-3 to uphold current policy prohibiting home-schooled students from competing on district-sponsored sports teams.
In considering the issue, the district joins others around the state. Caldwell-West Caldwell in Essex County votes this month on revisions to the district’s policies that would prevent home-schooled students from participating in interscholastic sports.
The proposed policy changes come as a result of a November 2011 change to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (NJSIAA) bylaws that state home-schooled students may participate in interscholastic sports if the district allows.
The NJSIAA guidelines declare a home-schooled student is eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics, at the district’s discretion, subject to several conditions, including residency, compliance with required paperwork, compliance with NJSIAA requirements, and certification of academic eligibility.
NJSIAA continues, “The rights, privileges and responsibilities associated with all other student athletes attending NJSIAA member schools will apply to home-schooled students who have satisfied the requirements above.”
Board of Education President Beth Daugherty noted that this topic has been "sparking conversation."
The challenge, observed a number of Board members, is determining if a home-schooled student is academically eligible to play a sport.
Columbia High School students must maintain academic standards to participate on teams. If the district chose to permit home-schooled students to play, a means for determining that same academic eligibility would be established.
"Evaluating students one-on-one is a very involved process," said Superintendent Brian Osborne, while noting that "if the Board makes this a priority, we will figure out how."
Board of Education member Jeff Bennett spoke at length about the benefits for local homeschoolers on team sports. Wayne Eastman said that he saw both sides of the argument, citing "inclusiveness" as one reason to consider permitting home-schoolers to play public school sports.
Bill Gaudelli noted that, to create a means for the district to assess potential home-schooled athletes would be "a self-imposed, unfunded mandate to create more work" for administration.
In New Jersey, more than 38,000 school-age children out of roughly 1.5 million are being schooled at home, according to estimates by the website Homeschooling A2Z, which extrapolated data from census reports and state data reports to come up with approximate numbers of homeschoolers for every state.
What is unclear is how many of those home-schooled New Jersey students are of high school age, because the number is just an estimate. The New Jersey Department of Education does not require registration of homeschooled students. New Jersey is one of 10 states that do not require registration, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association; every other state in the nation requires varying levels of notification of homeschooling and proof that a student is receiving an equivalent education at home.