Homeschooler Participation in High School Sports
Participation in high school sports was the least of my concerns when I started homeschooling ten years ago. Some form of physical activity for my children was an important part of their curriculum and they started swim team, tennis lessons, soccer, softball and baseball. All of these sports were available through the community and the availability of school sports was irrelevant. However, when Kristina reached high school age she was interested in the high school tennis team experience and we explored her alternatives. The Redding school district required enrollment in the school or the district independent study program, which was set up for high school dropouts and mandated several hours of busy-work weekly. So we were faced with choices: The prison of school vs. ISP busy work vs. freedom. Kristina really wanted to play high school tennis and was willing to make the sacrifice. Even as the school added more and more onerous enrollment requirements she was willing to comply. She changed her mind when the high school tennis coach stated she could no longer train with her private coach in Sacramento during the season. The reality of the inflexibility of the program and the hostility to homeschoolers finally sunk in, and she decided that the negligible benefits of school sports were outweighed by the infringement on her freedoms.
Two years later, after we moved to Davis, Kristina reached the opposite conclusion. After encouragement from a local tennis coach and other homeschoolers who had participated in high school sports, we contacted the high school tennis coach and school counselor, Paul Oaks. He was very supportive of Kristina's choice to homeschool and her desire to play high school sports, and put her in touch with the Davis School for Independent Study (DSIS). She submitted a homeschool high school transcript to DSIS, explained her reasons for joining the program, and Kristina's high school tennis team experience began. DSIS understood homeschooling and unschooling, gave Kristina the flexibility to follow her own educational course within minimal guidelines, allowed her to continue to be in control of her education by taking DSIS, homeschool and community college courses, introduced her to a wonderful mentor, gave her the social experience of a team, and gave her the opportunity to play her last two years before college on a top-level high school tennis team. She ultimately graduated from our home-based private school and now attends the University of California, San Diego, where she plays college tennis. Derek is in his third year of swimming and Monika started her first year of water polo and swimming for Davis High School while attending DSIS during the sports season. They both take the minimum courses required, continue with their homeschool and community college classes, and will graduate from our home-based private school.
California Interscholastic Federation
Although we got radically different treatment from the Redding and Davis school districts, they were following the same rules. In order to compete in high school sports at a public or private high school, the student must fit into the eligibility requirements of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF). High school sports programs are governed by CIF, a private nonprofit, voluntary association of public and private high schools organized under the direction of local school boards of education with the sanction of the California Education Code. Although each public school district governing board has general control over interscholastic athletic programs, California Education Code section 35179 provides that the governing boards may "enter into a voluntary association with other schools for the purpose of enacting and enforcing rules relating to eligibility for, and participation in, interscholastic athletic programs among and between schools." This provision gives schools the authority to join CIF, and conversely, gives CIF the authority over interscholastic athletic programs. California Education Code section 33353 describes the CIF as "a voluntary organization consisting of school and school related personnel with responsibility for administering interscholastic athletic activities in secondary schools." The CIF Bylaws, which are the rules that the schools must follow to remain eligible to compete in high school sports, specifically state: "Only students regularly enrolled in public and private CIF member schools, grades 9-12, shall be permitted to participate in the California Interscholastic Federation..." Since 1,265 California High Schools are members of CIF, the result is that homeschoolers must follow those rules in order to compete at the high school level.
CIF rules, called bylaws, can be found online at www.cifstate.org. These rules include several pages of eligibility requirements ranging from when boys can compete on girl's teams and vice-versa, to competing under an assumed name, to academic requirements, to discipline, to independent study, home study and home schooling. Section 227, which was added in February, 2000, states that: "Students who are not enrolled in programs under the jurisdiction of a member school's governing body are not eligible to participate in CIF competition. Such programs would include, but not be limited to, home schooling or home study wherein parents, or other persons, are responsible for instruction and evaluation. Home study, home schooling students may become eligible to participate in CIF competition provided they meet all requirements of bylaw 226." This section also applies to homeschool students using the private school option and private school programs that do not have CIF athletic programs. Bylaw 226 provides that an independent study student can be eligible for sports teams as long as: "A. The student's registration is accepted by the local school board AND; B. The courses taken by the student meet the standards adopted by the local school board and Education Code Sections 51745, et. Seq. AND; C. The administrative responsibility for the student involved in athletics shall rest with the principal of the school for which the student is competing, AND; D. The student meets all other eligibility requirements of the CIF and its member sections."
Therefore under CIF rules homeschoolers participating in interscholastic sports must enroll in a public or private high school, independent study program, or charter school. Not only are California homeschoolers required to follow these provisions, but also homeschooling is now defined in a quasi-legislative forum: "home schooling or home study wherein parents, or other persons, are responsible for instruction and evaluation." This requirement raises three significant questions: 1) Do our children have the fundamental constitutional right to participate in high school sports? 2) Can these bylaws/rules be challenged? 3) What is the legal significance of the definition of homeschooling found in the CIF bylaws?
Reprinted with the permission of the HomeSchool Association of California. © 2007–2008 by HomeSchool Association of California. All rights reserved.
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