Questions have arisen about a new law allowing home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular sports and activities at their local public school. Some supporters says additional regulations would help answer those questions.

Arkansas Act 1469 of 2013 by Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) says school districts must let home-schooled students try out to participate in extracurricular activities. To participate, students must have scored at least in the 30th percentile on a norm-referenced test, which is a standardized test that compares them to other students. Districts may require students to be at the school for one period per day in order to participate.

Melissa Savary, director of the Education Alliance, a group that advocates for home-schooled students, said she has received 15-20 questions from parents from a variety of districts who say they are running into problems with the law.

For example, under current state law, home-schooled students are only required to take standardized tests during grades 3-9, which means that many junior and senior students will not have norm-referenced tests to present to their districts. While they could take the test now, it would be eight to 10 weeks before the results would be known – too late to participate in a sport like football. She said the law also doesn’t specify who pays for the test.

Savary said her group would like the Arkansas Department of Education to write rules and regulations to clarify parts of the law.

But Dr. Tom Kimbrell, ADE commissioner, said the department tries to avoid writing additional regulations if the law does not call for them, which this one doesn’t. He said Act 1469 is straightforward enough that it doesn’t need additional rules. However, the department is working on material to guide school districts in adopting the new policy.

Lowery, the sponsor of the bill, said he plans to ask Sen. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) to discuss the issue during a joint meeting of the Legislature’s Education committees later this month. He said while a number of districts are embracing the law, “in other cases, it just almost feels like they’re being obstructionists in their interpretations of the law.”

Lance Taylor, executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association, which governs high school interscholastic activities, said school districts accept the new law and are working to implement it. Last year, 72.3 percent of the AAA’s member districts voted for a policy that said that districts “may” allow home-schooled students to participate. The use of the word “may” was part of the reason the Legislature adopted Act 1469, which uses the word “shall.”

Taylor said other states that have adopted similar laws have seen more students participate in band and choir than in athletics.

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Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics. He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers. You can email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.
Steve Brawner

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