Bill opens public school sports and extracurricular activities to virtual or at-home students

TOPEKA — Douglass High School operations director Jason Menard said there is no justification for a Kansas House bill to rewrite state law to make students in virtual schools, home schools and unaccredited private schools eligible for extracurricular activities in the public school district where they reside.

Menard, president of the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, on Monday urged the House K-12 Education Budget Committee to reject the bill and affirm the state’s system of providing sports, music, debates and other opportunities to bona fide students of a public school district. who participate only if they meet the standards for attendance, instruction, and behavior established by the local school board and the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

He said the legislation would disrupt an approach to education that blended classroom experiences with lessons learned through participation in more than 15 KSHSAA-sanctioned activities.

“One thing we teach our students every day is that there are positive and negative consequences to every decision,” Menard said. “Students and parents who choose to homeschool do so because they believe it is in their best academic or social interests. But by choosing the homeschooling route, you are also forgoing opportunities to participate in their local school activities.

The committee took no action on House Bill 2511, but Speaker Kristey Williams, a Republican from Augusta, expressed support for the bill likely to gain traction among choice-hungry conservative lawmakers. of school. Although no one testified in support of the bill, Williams said written testimony in support of it was submitted after the deadline and has not been made public.

The bill would place into state law a requirement for KSHSAA employees and board members to report suspected cases of student abuse or neglect. Currently, 73 of KSHSAA’s 79 board members are employees of Kansas school districts and fall under applicable law, making them mandated reporters. The other six, appointed by the state Board of Education or Governor Laura Kelly, are required reporters because of their employment or licensing status.

Williams said students educated at home or in virtual environments would be enriched by participating in extracurricular activities in Kansas’s 286 public school districts. The influx of athletes or performers would be a boon to public school districts with declining enrollment, she said.

Under the bill, new entrants to private education would be required to follow the age, vaccination and fee payment rules of their public school peers. They would not be held to the academic course enrollment and completion standards applied to public school students participating in extracurricular offerings.

Williams called Kansas a “no-access” state in terms of opening up public school activities and sports to homeschool and virtual school students. She said 20 states offered homeschoolers access to public school programs, while 10 states guaranteed partial access to homeschoolers.

“It’s building bridges, not walls,” Williams said. “It’s progressive thinking. One hundred percent. Kids benefit when you let them play.

The House bill would allow the homeschool or virtual school — not the administrator of the public school district — to decide whether a student is qualified for extracurricular activities. The list of KSHSAA sponsored activities includes basketball, bowling, cross country, soccer, golf, gymnastics, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball, wrestling as well as debate, drama, music, piano, bowling, speaking and spiritual activities. .

Bill Faflick, executive director of the state’s High School Activities Association, said he opposes House Bill 2511 because it would allow students in homeschooling and virtual schools to participate in public school district sports or activities without meeting the minimum enrollment, academic, attendance, and behavioral requirements of the other students in the district. (Kansas Reflector screenshot from the Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

It’s the principle

Bill Faflick, executive director of the State High School Activities Association, said that since the 1970s, the association has given small, unaccredited private schools and home-schooling organizations a chance to compete against KSHSAA member schools. in the regular season and during invitational contests. In the 2021-22 school year, 30 alternative schools were on the list.

He said 100,000 Kansas students attending accredited KSHSAA member private and public schools have been granted semester-by-semester rights to participate in extracurricular activities. Passing House Bill 2511, which guaranteed eligibility for students who chose homeschooling or virtual schooling, would do those 100,000 students a disservice, he said.

“Granting automatic eligibility for homeschooled children to play on another school’s team, where they have no status or connection, fundamentally changes the nature of school activity groups and teams as “sponsoring school extensions. The philosophical basis of all KSHSAA activities is that student responsibilities come before being an athlete. This bill changes that fundamental principle,” Faflick said.

He said it would transform high school teams into community teams participating in a recreational or club league.

“Will the Legislature grant non-students eligibility to play on Kansas junior, college or varsity teams in the same way?” said Faflick.

Rep. Patrick Penn, a Wichita Republican on the House committee reviewing the bill, said he opposed Faflick’s reference to students without “status or connection” to a school district. public. He accused Faflick of intolerance towards black and indigenous people as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people by denying them the opportunity for extracurricular activities in public schools.

“The people who pay the taxes, aren’t they the taxpayers? Penn asked Faflick, who replied in the affirmative. “So are you saying you support discriminating against student taxpayers from the LGBTQIA community, Indigenous peoples, and the black community just because they don’t attend your public schools?”

Faflick said he does not support discriminating anyone for any reason.

“I find some of your comments here a bit abrasive and offensive,” Penn said.

Williams picked up the “position” thread by suggesting to Faflick that families paying property taxes to support public education had a financial stake in local school districts. She said the owner of a $120,000 home in Andover or Sterling pays about $935 a year in public school property taxes.

“That part of your testimony was a little concerning, given the kind of economic benefit these parents bring to the school district,” Williams said.

Mark Tallman, right, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the organization opposed a House bill that guaranteed students in homeschooling and virtual schools a chance to participate in extracurricular and sports activities in public schools. He said passage of the bill could trigger apprehensions from parents who believe their children have lost enrichment opportunities to people not enrolled in their public school. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

other voices

Keith Hall, district superintendent of Thunder Ridge in Kensington, said experience has shown and research has confirmed that students need to be on campus, in person, all day and not just show up for sports.

He said Thunder Ridge was enabling remote learning for students unable to attend regular classes and agreed that some of those students could participate in extracurricular activities. Some are tempted to skip classes at the alternative school and show up for their favorite activities, he said.

“This bill, in the best interest of students, should be denied,” Hall said. “If you are going to move this bill forward, at the very least students should be enrolled at their home school to allow parents and the school board to keep the local personal relationship strong and have the opportunity to create an environment that the local community supports. This should not be a stepping stone to allow an aloof and impersonal institution that does not care about our students or our community to plunder our school district of our students and diminish the education they deserve.

Phil Bressler, principal of Sterling Junior and Senior High School, said the bill’s authors missed a basic reality that school activities were part of registering as a student at Sterling.

“Just because a school event is open to the community doesn’t make it a community event. Similarly, the local Independence Day parade is not a school event just because the school band marches in it,” Bressler said.

Holton High School principal Rod Wittmer said the lack of state requirements that homeschools hire licensed staff, provide a specific curriculum and submit to audits justifies unease over the legislation requiring the mixing of students in public school districts.

He said the result could be the emergence of a sport-oriented or sport-only environment.

“If that’s what parents want, then they already have club sports available to them,” Wittmer said. “If parents and students want to participate in public school activities and want to have a sense of community with their classmates and teammates, then our doors are always open for their registration and participation.”

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