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High school sports: Public-school sports teams open to home-schoolers

As practices for fall sports get into full swing this week, public schools across Ohio are
working out how to implement a new state law allowing home-schooled and some private-school
students to join their teams.

The change, included in the state budget bill approved in late June, eliminates obstacles those
students faced. Old rules required students to take at least one class in the district to
participate on a school sports team.

New rules say only that home-schooled students must live in the particular district to play.And
if students attend a public school that doesn’t offer a sport, they can play in a different
district. Private-school students without access to a sport can play in the public district in
which they live.

But there has been confusion about when the new law takes effect.

Under state rules, the legislation will become law on Sept. 29, which is 90 days after it was
signed by the governor. Schools that want to comply with the new law sooner would technically be
violating Ohio High School Athletic Association rules.

But the association recently lifted those rules, and at a meeting yesterday clarified that
schools can begin accepting students immediately.

“There is absolutely no requirement on our part to implement immediately,” Deborah Moore,
associate commissioner of the association, wrote in an email. “We are simply holding our bylaws in
abeyance so that if a school district chooses to implement this law immediately, it may do so
without penalty.”The penalty in such a case would have been that a team had to forfeit games
involving the ineligible student.

After yesterday’s meeting at New Albany High School, officials of the Gahanna-Jefferson district
reversed a decision to wait until Sept. 29, although they still want clarification on whether the
new law will bring insurance risks to school districts.

“What is the liability of a nonenrolled student who’s participating in our facilities?” asked
Justin Sanford, the district’s athletic director.There are other issues that need to be worked out,
too, officials say, such as how to handle transfer students and whether home-schooled students must
try out for teams.“In the next couple days, there will be questions,” said Dave Cecutti,
commissioner of the Ohio Capital Conference, home to 32 central Ohio high schools. “I think there’s
going to be some different interpretation.”

Still, some districts, such as Olentangy, already are accepting students onto teams. The
district’s board is to propose a policy today that meets the new requirements.

Interest among non-students has varied by district, Cecutti said. “Some districts are getting
maybe two, three; other schools may not get any,” he said.

A half-dozen or so nonpublic students have told Olentangy officials that they plan to join
district teams, said Mark Raiff, director of academics for the district. Four have said they want
to join in Gahanna, but for winter or spring sports. Hilliard officials recently fielded calls from
a family with two home-schooled kids interested in playing at the middle- and high-school
level.

Sanford said he expects that students from Gahanna Christian Academy, which has no football
team, will join Gahanna-Jefferson teams in the future.

Other districts, including Bexley and New Albany, haven’t heard from any families with students
who want to play.

Even if districts comply with the new law immediately, new players might miss practices, Cecutti
said. Boards have to update policies, and students must pass sports physicals before joining a
team. “It’s not like all of a sudden you’re going to walk in and get a football helmet,” he
said.

Other states have adopted a similar policy, sometimes referred to as the “Tim Tebow Law,” named
after the Heisman Trophy winner in college who played on his local high-school football team as a
home-schooled student in Florida.

The new statute addresses home-schooled and private-school students but does not include those
attending charter schools. Currently, students enrolled in community schools that are sponsored by
the district they live in can participate in extracurricular programs there.

cbinkley@dispatch.com

@cbinkley

cboss@dispatch.com

@cvrboss

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