In a controversial 2011 decision, the governing body of New Jersey’s high school sports program decided – in a reversal of longtime policy – that local school districts could choose to allow home-schooled students to play on public school sports teams. After two changes in policy, Brick school officials will now have to actively decide on a new policy that addresses the topic.
The 2011 decision kicked off a debate in towns across the state. Parents who home-school their children said their tax money supports the school system and their kids should be able to have an equal athletic experience to their neighbors. Opponents have argued that home-schooled students are not part of the school community, and should not occupy positions on teams that would have otherwise gone to matriculating students. School officials struggled, as well, with questions over whether district insurance policies covered home-schooled students, and how to assess nine in-depth academic criteria that are required to be met before a home-schooled student can legally play.
Brick, under then-superintendent Walter Hrycenko, initially allowed students to play. But in 2015, the district updated its policy manual. During a time when a dozen or more policies were being updated at once – sometimes prompting concern from board members who served – the new policy left out guidance on home-school students’ eligibility. Superintendents have since not allowed the practice, however two principals still operated under the former policy and allowed home-schooled students to play. Now, after the discrepancy recently came to light, Board of Education members will review the issue – again – and make a determination that will require a policy vote.
The issue is one officials are struggling to decide upon.
“They are not technically district students,” said Interim Superintendent Dennis Filippone, making it difficult to comply with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association criteria for eligibility.
If a player is found not to be eligible, teams risk forfeiting wins or even championships, raising the stakes on the issue, one school official said confidentially.
The issue spurred two parents who home-school their children to speak at a recent Board of Education meeting, pleading for their students to be able to participate.
Filippone said the vast majority of New Jersey school districts do not allow home-schooled children to participate in district athletics due to concerns over insurance, liability and compliance with the NJSIAA policies. But he is keeping an open mind and discussing the issue with board members, who will ultimately decide.
“We’ve already reached out to some board members,” Filippone said. “They’re willing to sit down and discuss it.”