Though the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) approved changes to allow homeschooled students to play sports in Alabama’s public schools, some school districts are not yet enrolling homeschooled students due to confusion about academic and other enrollment requirements.
While the AHSAA allows for homeschooled students to participate in sports beginning after the last day of the 2015-2016 school year, the rule doesn’t require any school to enroll students at this point.
The rules only state that homeschooled students must be enrolled by the 20th day of a semester in order to be eligible to play sports during the school year.
That’s a problem for students who had hoped to participate in summer sports practices with potential teammates in public school.
At Hoover City Schools’ June board meeting, a parent of a student hoping to play basketball at Hoover High School addressed the board, telling them she was so far unable to enroll her child and was concerned her child was missing out on summer opportunities with the team. Citing AHSAA’s rules that now allow for her child’s enrollment, she asked district officials for their help in determining how to enroll her child.
Hoover superintendent Dr. Kathy Murphy said the district still had a lot of questions and was not able to enroll any students until they had their questions answered.
Speaking after the meeting, Murphy said a number of issues still needed to be ironed out, including a very basic one: having an actual box to check within the student information management system, known as iNow, to indicate the student enrolled as a part-time student.
In addition, there are a lot of rules, academic and otherwise, that apply to enrolled students, and Murphy asked, “What part of the rules apply to part-time students?” Murphy said they had contacted the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and the AHSAA, neither of which could answer questions she had.
Murphy said she welcomes homeschooled students and looks forward to enrolling them. “We’re not only respectful of the letter of the law, but the spirit of engaging the children. Bring ’em on,” she concluded.
Dr. Eric Mackey, Executive Director of School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA), agreed there are still a number of unanswered questions. Mackey reiterated that the AHSAA only created rules for eligibility to participate, not mechanisms for schools to enroll students.
The AHSAA requirement that students enroll in two classes makes that student a part-time student. “We don’t technically have part-time enrollment in Alabama. So when they show up at the school, how do schools enroll them?” Mackey asked.
Adding to the confusion, Mackey said, is that some school districts are enrolling homeschooled students, while others are not.
Though Mackey said he isn’t hearing from any superintendents that this is an issue, he knows questions are being asked. And while large numbers of homeschooled students are not expected to enroll to participate in sports, Mackey said he has heard estimates that 200 to 300 homeschooled students statewide might want to participate.
Dr. Bill Cleveland, superintendent of Homewood City schools, said one homeschooled student has enrolled at Homewood High School to participate in sports.
Dr. Craig Pouncey, superintendent of Jefferson County schools, said he knows of three homeschooled students who have expressed interest, but none have enrolled.
Mobile County schools superintendent Martha Peek said she knows of only one homeschooled student who has enrolled in the entire district.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics said that about 1.77 million, or 3.4% of students aged 5 to 17 were homeschooled in the 2011-2012 school year, the latest year for which data is available.
There are no reliable estimates for how many students in Alabama are homeschooled, but if you just do the math (3.4% times the 821,700 children between ages 5 and 17 in 2012 – according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates – as many as 24,650 students could have been homeschooled that year).
What the AHSAA’s Rules Say
In order to participate in AHSAA-sanctioned sports in grades 7 through 12, homeschooled students must adhere to the following guidelines:
- Enroll and take two courses at the public school in which they are zoned to attend. The AHSAA recommends athletics and physical education (PE) for safety reasons.
- Both courses can be taken through a school’s virtual program. [Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, all school districts must offer a full slate of courses to be made available virtually. The AHSAA adopted rules for virtual school students’ eligibility in April as well.]
- However, if the school requires an athlete to take PE to participate in athletics, homeschooled student will be required to take PE on the school’s campus. If the school does not require athletic PE to participate in athletics, homeschooled students may take PE through a school’s virtual program.
- Students must “take AHSAA criteria tests developed by the ALSDE for the AHSAA in all four core subjects at the end of each semester for academic eligibility.” Those tests must be taken at the school. Homeschooled students who take core courses through a school’s virtual program or college course credit do not have to take the tests.
Working Out the Details
Representatives from multiple education groups, including the AHSAA and the ALSDE met last week in Montgomery to iron out details and figure out what questions remain for districts to enroll homeschooled students.
Interim State Superintendent Dr. Philip Cleveland said Wednesday that there are still a number of questions about which rules will apply to part-time students, and that outside of testing and accountability, much of it will be left up to local school board policy.
Cleveland said the ALSDE will issue guidance in the form of a memorandum to school districts within a couple of weeks to help them meet the needs of homeschooled students and stay compliant with AHSAA rules on eligibility. “We want all kids to have extracurricular opportunities and will support that moving forward,” Cleveland said.
When asked about which tests homeschooled students will be required to take, Cleveland said the ALSDE is working with the AHSAA to “help them define what they want for entry to academic eligibility.” Cleveland was unsure which tests might be used, but said the ALSDE is working on it.
Cleveland cited a number of areas that the ALSDE is looking into, including whether homeschooled students must be immunized, whether students will be required to participate in federal accountability measures (including graduation rates), and whether federal regulations will require that homeschooled students take annual standardized tests.
Cleveland was clear that homeschooled students must be enrolled, that they will get a grade, and they will have a public school transcript reflecting that grade.
“There are a lot more hurdles out there than most people understand. Some of them are hurdles that we cannot remove, because they are hurdles placed by Washington,” Mackey said.
Mackey attended last week’s meeting and agreed there are still a number of unanswered questions. “Having been an administrator in a school district, I can understand why school districts are hesitant to enroll students at this point,” he said.
The big questions right now, according to Mackey, are “how are schools going to enroll students, how will that be reported to the state, and how are they going to be counted or not counted for accountability”.
Federal accountability is the big stumbling block right now. “Federal accountability regulations say once students are enrolled, they must take the tests for accountability purposes.” Mackey said they have been searching for answers but haven’t gotten those answers at this point. Mackey said for now, it looks like homeschooled students are going to have to take state accountability tests (the ACT Aspire, the ACT with writing and the ACT WorkKeys).
What Do Other States Do?
There is no easy answer to that question. Here’s a look at the Home School Legal Defense Association’s (HSLDA) up-to-date list of laws from across the country. And here’s a look at a more concise list from the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, though it’s from 2014.
In many states, homeschooled students participating in sports have to either enroll in the public school part-time and/or provide some academic proof that the student is eligible. In some states, that means taking standardized tests in public schools, while in others it means parents must provide that proof of academic progress.
In many states, the state law regulating homeschooling guides whether a student participates in state mandated annual testing and thus is a part of federal accountability measures, but because Alabama is prohibited by law from regulating or licensing homeschooling in any way, the question of what to do about testing and how those results will count remains.
Some facts about homeschooling.
The U.S. Department of Education’s (USDOE) National Household Education Survey program took a look at why parents choose to homeschool their children. The results are in the image below. Click the image to go the USDOE’s non-public education site.