Fayette County

Lexington legislator's bill would let homeschool and private-school students play sports at public schools

Stan Lee (R)  Lexington, unsuccessfully tried to add an amendment to the budget bill the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on March 13, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Stan Lee (R) Lexington, unsuccessfully tried to add an amendment to the budget bill the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on March 13, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

A bill prefiled this month in Kentucky's General Assembly is not the first that state Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, has introduced to allow homeschooled children to participate in athletics at public middle and high schools.

But Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett said the legislation for 2015 "would fundamentally alter high school athletics in the state."

Under the bill, if a nonpublic school — including a homeschool — does not offer a sport, a student would be eligible to participate in the activity at a public school. The public school would be one to which the student would ordinarily be assigned if the student were not enrolled in private school or homeschooled.

The bill is "particularly different from past acts, as it appears to offer a blanket opportunity for any nonpublic school to have its students participate in school-based sports at another school," Tackett said in a statement. "The actual details are much more impactful to education-based athletics and its impact much more pervasive on our member schools."

The KHSAA has opposed similar bills in the past.

In an interview, Tackett said that some smaller private schools might decide not to offer athletics if such a law were passed.

"They could still promote the benefits of the smaller classroom ... and never have to have the expense of sports, because kids could play where they live," he said.

Tackett also mentioned the impact that the legislation, if it passed, could have on a student at the Lexington private school Sayre. Sayre doesn't offer high school football, so students who attend Sayre could be eligible to play football at public high schools.

Sayre Athletics Director Erik Johnson said Friday that having Sayre students going elsewhere and not playing the sports that Sayre offers could diminish the school's sense of community.

Johnson said the school needs all of its students to field competitive teams in the sports that it does offer.

Under the legislation, student athletes wanting to play at a public school would have to provide their own transportation rather than have the district incur extra costs and would have to comply with all standards set by the public school, academic and physical, under the proposed legislation.

"They still have to try out," Lee said in an interview.

Lee said similar homeschool legislation has been unsuccessful in Kentucky in the past, but at least 26 states have some version of the legislation he is proposing for 2015.

"This is not about any political statement about public schools or private schools," Lee said. "This is just children that want to play sports."

He said he filed legislation after hearing from the mother of a homeschooled boy who wanted to play football at a public middle school but was not allowed.

Lee said he and his wife homeschool their daughter. Parents of homeschooled children and public school children "all pay the same taxes," Lee said.

Linda Denny, a Lexington mother who homeschools her two children, said some homeschool parents think it is reasonable to ask that their children be allowed to play public school sports because they pay taxes.

Denny said that among her fellow homeschool parents, "there are a lot of people who would like to have sports opportunities for their children."

Denny is in favor of the bill but doesn't know whether her children would play sports at a public school if it were allowed.

Meanwhile, Tackett said one concern about allowing homeschool students to play at public schools is that there is no means of comparing their academic performance with that of students in public schools. That extends not only to grades, but to requirements for a student-athlete to be enrolled full-time, which is four hours of a six-hour instructional day, he said.

Another concern is that public schools would have to spend money on the private school or homeschool students.

Tackett said KHSAA officials want to make sure that any change to the law would be "competitively fair" for all students.

"There's plenty of time for discussion," Tackett said. "We're more than willing to meet with Stan."