By Sarah Drury
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, debate and band at their local public school.
Senators voted 22-13 in favor of House Bill 1626, sponsored by Del. Robert Bell, R-Albermarle. The bill had already passed the House on a vote on 57-41.
The legislation, known as the “Tebow Bill,” states that public schools could allow students under home instruction to engage in extracurricular activities. Home-schoolers would be eligible to participate “in interscholastic programs at the school serving the attendance zone in which the student lives.” They would also be subject to the school’s policies, such as immunizations and physical examinations.
As passed by the House, HB 1626 required local public schools to let home-schoolers participate in extracurricular activities. However, Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, suggested amending the bill so that schools have an option – not a requirement – to allow participation by home-schoolers.
With that change, three Democrats joined 18 Republicans in voting for HB 1626. (The three Democrats were Sens. Charles Colgan of Manassas, Lynwood Lewis of Accomac and Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg; however, Dance later said she meant to vote no.)
Bell was happy that he finally passed the bill. It had failed in previous years when Democrats controlled the Senate.
“For years, I have fought to give home-schooled students fair access to extracurricular activities in public schools. This concept is endorsed by 29 other states and is widely supported by the public,” Bell said.
“I am very excited the Senate moved this bill forward. I will accept the Senate amendment and send the bill to Governor McAuliffe’s desk for his signature.”
Here is how the Senate voted on Tuesday on HB 1626 (“Students receiving home instruction; participation in public school interscholastic programs”).
Floor: 02/17/15 Senate: Passed Senate with amendment (22-Y 13-N)
YEAS – Alexander, Black, Carrico, Chafin, Colgan, Cosgrove, Dance, Garrett, Hanger, Lewis, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Obenshain, Reeves, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner – 22.
NAYS – Barker, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Locke, Marsden, McEachin, Miller, Petersen, Saslaw, Wexton – 13.
NOT VOTING – Lucas, Norment, Puller, Stosch, Watkins – 5.
Sen. Dance stated that she voted yea on the question of the passage of HB 1626, whereas she intended to vote nay.
Under the bill, a public school could allow home-schoolers to participate if they demonstrate two consecutive years of academic progress, are under 19 and comply with all of the school’s immunization, disciplinary and eligibility requirements.
Opponents of the bill include the Virginia Parent Teachers Association, the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia School Board Association. In the past, they have stated that athletics and academics at school are linked. Opponents also have argued that making an exception for home-schoolers is unfair to a school’s students.
The “Tebow Bill” was nicknamed after Tim Tebow, the former NFL quarterback who as a home-schooled teenager was allowed to play on his local high school’s football team in Florida.
“Fundamentally, this bill is about opportunity,” Bell said. “This is about giving the over 32,000 home-schoolers in Virginia the opportunity to participate in school sports, clubs and group activities. This is about letting parents decide how to design the optimal educational path for their children.”
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.