Over the last few years, the TSSAA (Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association) has made some changes that aim to include homeschoolers in league sports. First, a bylaw was changed which allowed home school students to participate in TSSAA sports if the local school also allowed it. Those students also had to meet a set of criteria listed in the bylaw. However, few schools ended up allowing homeschoolers, and those in most areas of the state were still unable to participate.
On April 1, 2013, Governor Bill Haslam signed Senate Bill 240, which required that public schools belonging to an athletic organization that had a rule allowing homeschoolers must allow eligible homeschoolers to play. Now, in short, any public school in the state must allow homeschoolers who meet the TSSAA’s criteria to try out for sports.
While this is all good news, there are still some problems that need to be addressed. The TSSAA’s definition of a “home school student” needs some clarity if it is meant to include the vast majority of homeschoolers in the state. The definition is narrow: only independent homeschoolers, those who fill out an intent to homeschool and report to the state, are included. However, 90-95% of homeschoolers in the state are enrolled with church-related schools. According to the rule, homeschoolers enrolled with these schools would have to withdraw in order to play for a TSSAA team.
A meeting was held last October between Senators Jack Johnson, Roger Kane, Jeremy Durham, and TSSAA attorney Richard Colbert. The object of the meeting was to establish a better definition of homeschoolers. According to the memo released from this meeting, Senator Kane described students such as his own children, who enrolled in an umbrella program “solely for the benefit of administrative services.” They came to the following decision:
“If a home school student is not taking classes through the umbrella school and is only using the umbrella school for administrative and record keeping services, then the student is not regarded as being enrolled and in attendance at the umbrella school. Accordingly, such use of an umbrella school does not constitute “dual enrollment” and does not affect eligibility under the TSSAA home school rule.”
What does this mean for HomeLife students, specifically?
HomeLife utilizes what the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) calls Option III under Tennessee home school law: “Parent as Teacher in Church-Related School.”
“A parent-teacher may enroll the parent’s home school student or students in a church-related school as defined in § 49-50-801, and participate as a teacher in that church-related school. Such parent-teacher shall be subject to the requirements established by the church-related school for home school teachers and exempt from the rest of the provisions of this section.”HSLDA
To say that students do not take classes under HomeLife, as the TSSAA rule states, could conflict with the our status as a Category IV Church-related School, since parents serve as HomeLife teachers and report attendance for their students. We are working with HSLDA to determine if students may be able to participate under this ruling while still receiving an official transcript and/or diploma from HomeLife. Furthermore, students who wish to play for the TSSAA as a homeschooler must still file a notice of intent to homeschool and report to the local school system, even if they are also enrolled with an umbrella school.
If a student is interested in playing sports, the parent should contact HomeLife. We are compiling an email and phone list to keep parents updated on this issue. We are working on these issues on a case-by-case basis. If your student is definitely wanting to play sports in the upcoming 14/15 school year, you MUST file your notice of intent to homeschool by Aug. 1st and apply with the school you want to play for by Aug 15th. If you wish to play for a private school, TSSAA rules require that you pay full tuition, even if you are not taking classes there, and register by August 1st.
If you want to receive updates on these issues, have a student wishing to play, or if you have any further information or have had a student play for a TSSAA team as a homeschooler, please contact Bryanna Cash at 888-560-0774, Ext. 3518 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.