Some homeschool students who meet eligibility requirements may now apply to participate in UIL activities. This would allow them to complete along side equal grade level Sulphur Springs ISD students.
“The legislation passed that makes this an allowable thing – it’s never been before – if the school board says it is,” SSISD Superintendent Mike Lamb said, referring to the passage of House Bill 547. “We were kind of waiting on rules and some of them came out, the toughest one being if you’re going to do this, you have to do it by August first. I still kind of contend that there are a lot of questions that could be asked that aren’t answered yet by the state.”
Homeschool students do have to meet specific criteria. They must live in Sulphur Springs ISD and able to enroll in SSISD. The families, if homeowners, are paying SSISD taxes. Allowing their homeschool children to participate in UIL activities would allow their students to benefit from that required payment. The homeschool student also must be passing all classes, with students’ parents or guardians permission and vouching for the child’s grades.
Students would have to successfully pass from among a list of tests, to show that they have achieved grade level competency. Ex: A freshman who homeschools, but wants to play sports at SSISD, must prove their grade level. They would have had to pass the grade level appropriate test, passing them from eighth to ninth grade. A sophomore would need to have five high school credits and prove through a test. Once they are eligible and start, the student would be required to maintain their grades for a specified grading period. Their parents, who would be considered their teacher or educator, would have to affirm to the coach or activity sponsor on a signed form that their students are passing all classes and meet all other requirements.
SSISD Trustee Robbin Vaughn, when presented with the proposal to allow homeschool students to participate in SSISD UIL activities, said the one concern she has is that someone could at or toward the end of a season question a homeschool student’s eligibility, whether the student is actually passing their courses or not. For instance, Vaughn said, What if someone who has access tried tracking a homeschool student through an online program, which showed the student had not satisfactorily completed their class assignments as had been reported, questioned a student’s eligibility. Lamb said those issues would have to be addressed in policy.
“If you follow the way the law is written, we have a responsibility to pursue every kid,” Lamb said. “When they take homeschool, there can be times when we say to ourselves, ‘that kid, we know everyday he’s not doing everything or he’s still developing, go check it out.’ The homeschool lobby has said, ‘Leave him alone. You don’t touch him.’ If they say they’re homeschooled, their homeschooled. … Once they are homeschooled, we don’t have any say whatsoever [about their grades and program course work].”
Students would only be eligible to apply to participate in UIL activities not offered by their homeschool program. For instance, if Christian Home Educators of Sulphur Springs program offers competitive basketball, homeschool students who are part of CHESS would not be eligible to be part of the SSISD basketball program for their grade level.
“These UIL rules say if something like that exists, then, you can’t. In our case, a homeschool kid could come here to play football, but they couldn’t play basketball because of the CHESS organization,” Lamb said.
Homeschool students would still have to follow SSISD’s rules for the UIL program, which could mean trying out and being selected to play on a varsity team.
“The problem we’ve got is some of the rules will come later, but we’ve got to make this decision by August first if we want it,” SSISD Board of Trustees President Robert Cody said.
“I can see this as an opportunity for these children to be integrated into our campuses and do some of these things, and they are taxpayers,” Trustee Leesa Toliver said. “I just see that it could be a challenge for us in some ways.”
Lamb said while discussion regarding homeschool students being allowed to participate in SSISD UIL activities may start out sounding very similar to discussions about students and the voucher system, allowing these students to participate in UIL is a different scenario.
“Where a kid who wants to use a voucher to go to a private school is basically wanting to take tax dollars away from the school using the voucher, that’s not the case here. When you get to that part of the conversation, you get down to how can you really look at somebody and say this why we don’t do it. They’ve essentially paid for that ability, just like anybody else,” Lamb said.
While homeschool students who live within SSISD are eligible to participate in SSISD’s UIL activities, that doesn’t mean that they will. Students and their families who opted out of having the students on campus, may choose not to have the students participate in UIL activities alongside students enrolled at SSISD.
“I suggest we do this, move forward with it and learn as we go. If we need to close that door one day, we have that opportunity,” Lamb told SSISD Board of Trustees during the regular meeting on July 12, 2021. “It’s our recommendation that we vote and allow homeschool students to play our UIL sports.”
SSISD Board of Trustees after the discussion voted on a motion by Toliver and seconded by Vaughn to provide UIL participation opportunities for homeschool students who meet the established criteria for participation in UIL activities.