For many different reasons, homeschoolers sometimes participtate in classes, activities, and sports at their local public school.
Check the Homeschooling Community First!
As well as considering activities at the local public school, I encourage homeschoolers to seek out activities within the homeschooling community. Sometimes there is a similar activity available. Homeschoolers often take gym classes at a local YMCA or gym, they enjoy after-school classes in karate and dance, they play in community music ensembles, they create co-ops and classes specifically for homeschoolers. Check with local homeschooling groups to see if what you're looking for is already available in the local homeschooling community, or if there are other families who'd like to help you start something new. Local dance and karate schools, YMCAs, and gyms are often pleased to set up activities for homeschoolers. Participating in these activities helps strengthen the local homeschooling community. Of course, it is not always possible to find an appropriate activity within the homeschooling community. In that case, we in PA can turn to the new Equal Access law, which allows home educated students to participate in extracurricular activities at their local public school.
Pennsylvania's Equal Access Law
On November 10, 2005, Governor Ed Rendell signed the PA Equal Access Bill. It went into effect January 1, 2006. The bill, an addition to the home education law, reads as follows:
(F.1) (1) Beginning January 1, 2006, the school district of residence shall permit a child who is enrolled in a home education program to participate in any activity that is subject to the provisions of Section 511 including, but not limited to, clubs, musical ensembles, athletics and theatrical productions provided that the child:
(I) meets the eligibility criteria, or their equivalent, for participation in the activity that apply to students enrolled in the school district;
(II) meets the try-out criteria, or their equivalent, for participation in the activity that apply to students enrolled in the school district; and
(III) complies with all policies, rules and regulations, or their equivalent, of the governing organization of the activity.
(2) For the purposes of this subsection, the school district of residence's program of interscholastic athletics, including varsity sports, shall be considered an activity and shall include all activities related to competitive sports contests, games, events or exhibitions involving individual students or teams of students whenever such activities occur between schools within the school district or between schools outside of the school district.
(3) where the activity requires completion of a physical examination or medical test as a condition of participation and the school district of residence offers such physical examination or medical test to students enrolled in the school district, the school district shall permit a child who is enrolled in a home education program to access such physical examination or medical test. The school district shall publish the dates and times of such physical examination or medical test in a publication of general circulation in the school district and on its publicly accessible internet website.
(4) A board of school directors may adopt a policy to implement the requirements of this subsection. Such policy shall only apply to participation in activities and shall not conflict with any provisions of this section.
This is a new law, so families may encounter folks at the school district who are unfamiliar with it. You can refer them to the PDE's FAQ page. If questions arise, consider contacting the homeschool liasion at the PDE, who can help clarify the details of the law.
Cases & Conflicts
In some cases, participation is easy - just ask. In others, you may get resistance from the school district, or there may be a question as to whether the activity really is an extracurricular activity. If you are encountering problems, the homeschool liasion at the PDE can help. You may also need to talk to your superintendent, gather community support, and/or present your case at a school board meeting. I would like to collect information about such cases for this page, to help others who encounter similar problems - if you have a story to share, please email me.
Avon Grove SD Spelling Bee, Jan 2007:
In this case, home educated student Meghan Reynolds participated in the 2006 spelling bee at her local public school in the Avon Grove School District in Chester County. Megan won the bee, and went on to compete at the county level, where she made it to the last round. In 2007, the principal and superintendent claimed that the bee was not an extracurricular activity, and therefore Meghan could not participate. After Meghan's mom Kim garnered community support, the school board reversed the decision and let Meghan participate. The two articles below give details of the case.
- Philadelphia Inquirer 01-25-2007 - Spelling ace wants a turn; the school's answer is N-O. (It's worth reading the whole article - excerpts below.)
"...The state senator who proposed the legislation says it is "absolutely" Meghan's right to compete in the spelling bee at Fred S. Engle Middle School, since the classroom contest is the first step in a national competition. Another sponsor of the bill, Senate Majority Leader Dominic F. Pileggi (R., Chester), said that, if necessary, he will introduce an amendment to clarify the law. Participation of home-schooled students in this kind of event "is what the law was intended to address," he said.
It is up to local districts to interpret how that applies to their schools, said Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Michael Storm. There is no specific penalty for noncompliance, he added; the family's only remedy would be through the courts.
Avon Grove School District Superintendent Augustus Massaro says the law does not cover the first round of the spelling bee, which is held in school classrooms. "This is a co-curricular, not an extracurricular activity," Massaro said last week. "The early rounds of the spelling bee require participation in the Language Arts program. If you are not part of the school, you can't participate, because this is part of the Language Arts curriculum."
... School district solicitor Michael Levin put it this way: The first round of the bee, he said "is part and parcel of the classroom instruction. This is not the type of activity that the law says home-schooled students must be allowed to engage in."
Act 67's principal sponsor, State Senator Bob Regola (R., Westmoreland), said the spelling bee "is sponsored by a national nonprofit organization. Even if it is during school hours and within a classroom, that should not preclude that a home-schooled student should participate." He added: "I think the law is clear. Come on, what are they afraid of? Let the young lady participate."
Senate majority leader Pileggi, whose district the Reynolds family lives in, said that while he could not comment on the specifics of Meghan's situation, "clearly, spelling bees are the type of activity that home-schoolers were to be allowed participation in. That was the intent of the law."
Roger Wilson, a Franklin Township supervisor who is a neighbor of the Reynolds family, helped circulate an e-mail appeal and a petition for Meghan's inclusion that has gathered widespread support and will be presented to the school board tonight, he said.
"I'm concerned that the district is looking for ways to exclude her rather than be open," Wilson said. "You can't help but have the suspicion that she's being excluded because she won last year and they don't want the competition. It's surprising and disappointing that they don't welcome her participation."
The superintendent would not comment specifically on Meghan's participation in the event last year. Kim Reynolds said she had been told by district officials that it was "a mistake."...
- Philadelphia Inquirer 01-25-2007 School board lets Chesco girl participate in spelling bee
"Meghan Reynolds can compete in the Avon Grove spelling bee, after all.
The Avon Grove school board voted unanimously Thursday night to make an exception to a district policy and let the 12-year-old home-schooled student participate in the contest at Fred S. Engle Middle School.
... Two state senators who sponsored that legislation said this week that, in their view, the law covered activities such as the bee. And the Home School Legal Defense Association, a nonprofit in Virginia, threatened legal action if the district did not let Meghan compete.
... Last night, president William Pew said the board still backed the administration's contention and its solicitor's view that the law did not mandate participation in the classroom. But he said the board made an exception because the law was "poorly written and ambiguous."
Kim Reynolds thanked the board, but told members that she thought they were wrong in saying the law didn't cover the classroom bee. And she said Meghan wanted to compete "in our community," not through the home-school bee. "I don't want them to think they are doing us a favor," she said after the meeting. "They still need to review their policy. I don't think it is right."
Here are some more articles about this case:
Interestingly, Avon Grove had another problem in '06-'07, as explained in this article from HSLDA.
- 9-7-06, HSLDA : School District Disregards Law
"Prior to the 2006-2007 school year, Avon Grove School District sent a letter to homeschooling parents notifying them that it had revised its policy for home education programs. Unfortunately, the new policy had little resemblance to the actual requirements for homeschooling under Pennsylvania law." While it is not uncommon for districts to send a letter with some deviations from the law, this one was particularly bad, showing a lack of confidence in homeschoolers and astounding ignorance of the PA Home Education Law. Read HSLDA's full article for the details.
Some school districts allow home educated students to take a class or two at the local public school. I'm under the impression (which could be wrong) that the district can claim some state funding for these kids. Here is a form I found at the PDE's site that districts can use to report the attendance of these kids.
- PDE-4083 (.pdf) --
Membership Report for Nonpublic and Home Education Students Attending Public Schools Part-Time
A form used by the district to report to the PDE "the membership data for students who are either enrolled in a nonpublic school or in a
home education program and are educated part-time by the school district, area vocational-technical
school (AVTS)/career technical school or intermediate unit (IU)". The membership data is used in the calculation of each school district's state funding. See also here and here.
History of PA's Equal Access Law
Advocating for Homeschoolers' Equal Access to Extracurriculars
Recently, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring school districts to allow home educated students to participate in extracurricular activities at local public schools. Many people over the years built the foundation for this law, by advocating for participation in their local districts. For those of you who live in areas where public schools are not required to allow participation, I offer these links that were useful to folks in PA before the law change, so that you can learn from our experience. You may also want to read some of the information above, especially Governor Rendell's Remarks about equal access.
Peter Hrycenko, firstname.lastname@example.org, PA homeschooling dad, worked hard to get the Pennsylvania equal access law passed. He is probably the best person to contact about this issue.
- HSLDA's page of State Laws Concerning Participation of Homeschool Students in Public School Activities
The text of many of the relevant laws is included at the bottom of the page.
- My PA Homeschoolers article
I wrote an article for the PA Homeschoolers Newsletter about how we handled this issue in Penn Delco, PA before the new law. This article has lots of resource links and advocacy tips for homeschoolers who are facing this issue.
- Why homeschoolers sometimes want school services.
Most homeschoolers don't want or need school services, and some feel it's inappropriate for homeschoolers to receive such services. To fully understand this issue, it's important to understand the wide variety of situations where participation in the public schools might be a sensible choice for a homeschooling family.
- HANDOUT: Questions to consider before denying services
When this came up in the Penn Delco PA school district, I put together a handout on "Questions we should ask before enacting a policy denying all services to homeschooled children". I didn't have all of the answers to these questions, but I hoped that if the board realized that they didn't either it might buy us some time. It worked! You may copy this handout and use it as you see fit.
- PA Homeschoolers web site
Useful examples, hints for advocacy, etc.
- Home School Resource Center
Sells a packet of information on the issue. It cost $7. I couldn't find it on the web site; you may have to call. Basically Deb Bell, whose sons have played on the local high school's football team, has compiled a huge collection of articles and forms, especially relating to sports participation. It was well worth the money.
How Homeschoolers Feel About Participation: Pro and Con
CODE OF 1949,
24 PS 5-511 School athletics, publications, and
[I am not sure if this information is accurate or current, but I am putting it here while I research further. Note: "school district of the first class" means Philadelphia, "school district of the second class" means a district that is not Philadelphia.]
(a) The board of school directors in every school district shall
prescribe, adopt, and enforce such reasonable rules and regulations as it
may deem proper, regarding
(1) the management, supervision, control, or
prohibition of exercises, athletics, or games of any kind, school
publications, debating, forensic, dramatic, musical, and other activities
related to the school program, including raising and disbursing funds for
any or all of such purposes and for scholarships, and
(2) the organization,
management, supervision, control, financing, or prohibition of
organizations, clubs, societies and groups of the members of any class or
school, and may provide for the suspension, dismissal, or other reasonable
penalty in the case of any appointee, professional or other employee, or
pupil who violates any of such rules or regulations.
(b) Any school or any class activity or organization thereof,
with the approval of the board, may affiliate with any local, district,
regional, State, or national organization whose purposes and activities are
appropriate to and related to the school program.
(b.1) Private schools shall be permitted, if otherwise
qualified, to be members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic
Association except that private schools located in cities of the second
class which are members of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic
Association shall, if they so elect, be assigned to a district or section
outside of the geographical boundary of the second class city but contiguous
thereto, and shall participate in Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic
Association sponsored athletic contests in that section. The association
shall not prohibit a private school from being a member solely on the
grounds that the coach or a member of the coaching staff of any athletic
team is not a teacher, or professional employee, either full-time or
part-time, at such private school, except that this provision shall not
apply to coaches or members of the coaching staff initially employed after
January 1, 1965.
(c) The board of school directors may (1) permit the use of
school property, real or personal, for the purpose of conducting any
activity related to the school program, or by any school or class
organization, club, society, or group, (2) authorize any school employee or
employees to manage, supervise and control the development and conduct of
any of such activities, (3) employ or assign any school employee to serve in
any capacity in connection with any of such activities.
(d) Notwithstanding the use of school property or
personnel, it shall be lawful for any school or any class
or any organization, club, society, or group hereof, to raise,
expend, or hold funds, including balances carried over from year to year, in
its own name and under its own management, under the supervision of the
principal or other professional employee of the school district designated
by the board. Such funds shall not be the funds of the school district but
shall remain the property of the respective school, class, organization,
club, society, or group. The treasurer or custodian of such funds shall
furnish to the school district a proper bond, in such amount and with such
surety or sureties as the board shall approve, conditioned upon the faithful
performance of his duties as treasurer or custodian. The premium of such
bond, if any, shall be paid from the fund or funds secured thereby or from
the funds of the school district, at the discretion of the board. The
treasurer or custodian shall be required to maintain an accounting system
approved by the board, shall deposit the funds in a depository approved by
the board, shall submit a financial statement to the board quarterly or
oftener, at the direction of the board, and shall submit the accounts to be
audited in like manner as the accounts of the school district.
(e) All purchases of materials or supplies made by any organization, club, society, or group, or by any school or class, in excess
of one thousand dollars, shall be made upon solicitation of quotations or
bids from three or more responsible manufacturers of or dealers in such materials or supplies. All such purchases shall be made from the lowest
responsible bidder on the basis of price, quality and service.
(f) The board of school directors of any district is hereby
authorized to appropriate any monies of the district for the payment of
medical and hospital expenses incurred as a result of participate in such
athletic events or games, practice or preparation therefor, or in
transportation to or from such athletic events or games, or the practice or
participation therefor, and for the purchases of accident insurance in
connection with such participation and transportation.
HISTORY: 6-29-84, Art 93 § 1 (PL 438), eff. 6-29-84, 6-26-74, Art
125, § 1 (PL 370); 10-16-72, Art 219, § 1 (PL 916); 4-22-49, Art 178, § 1
(PL 726); 4-14-49, Art 85, § 1 (PL 460); 3-10-49, Art 14, Art V, § 511 (PL
30), 5-18-11, Art. IV § 405 (PF 309)
NOTES ON DECISIONS AND OPINIONS
16 J Law & Ed 1 (Winter 1987). The Constitution and Student Publications: A Comprehensive Approach, Key Beth Avery and Robert J. Simpson.