Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
Dryden-resident Deana Madigan began a petition Oct. 26, seeking to make home-schooled children eligible to play on public school’s sports teams in New York State.
The petition, posted on MoveOn.com, had 283 signatures as of Nov. 11.
There are currently four bills pending approval in the New York State legislature trying to amend the law that prohibits home-schooled children from participating in public school’s athletic teams.
“We all pay taxes and as a local business owner I contribute to a lot of things that are happening in our schools,” said Madigan. “I just think it’s unfair that these kids aren’t given this opportunity.”
Madigan has just begun homeschooling her two children this academic year. Her 13-year-old son formerly played on multiple Dryden athletic teams.
“My son loves being home educated,” said Madigan, “But this may be the thing that brings him back to public schools.”
According to New York State Senate Bill 1715, there are currently 24 states that allow home-schooled children equal access to public school athletic teams.
A statement from the office of Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a multi-sponsor of Bill 1715, said, “I support allowing home-schooled students to participate in interscholastic athletics… I can assure you that I will work to pass this important measure during the upcoming 2015 Legislative Session.”
Thomas Schmidt, an attorney from the Home School Legal Defense Association, said in states where home-schooled children participate in public school athletics, there is not any increase in liability because children are treated as if they attend the school full-time.
In Dryden, home-schooled residents are allowed to participate in all extracurricular activities except sports because they must adhere to state regulations, said Sandra Sherwood, superintendent of Dryden Central School District.
“We recognize that home-schooled students are still our kids and we want them participating in all the things they can,” said Sherwood. “I thought that Deana’s petition was an excellent idea because this change has to occur at state level.”
This has been discussed before by the State of Education department. Ben Nelson, the Interscholastic Sports Coordinator for New York State Public High School Athletic Association of Section IV, said, “It’s not under the rules, the problem could be that if you break away from registration from a school, you don’t have control of eligibility and anybody could play for any school.”
Madigan first brought this issue to the Dryden school district at the Oct. 27 Board of Education meeting. Aside from this meeting, Sherwood said there has not been a lot of discussion surrounding this issue among faculty, parents and students.
Amy Ruttle, a homeschooling parent and a supporter of Madigan’s petition, said her daughter has participated in musical activities within Dryden’s schools. She said since her son is more interested in sports she would like to see this state mandate change.
“We may choose to home educate you may choose a public school and that’s fine,” said Ruttle, “we’re not looking to divide the line we’re looking to do what’s best for the community.”
Home-schooled children are required by law to receive the same standard of education as public schools. Sherwood said the students who currently participate in extracurricular activities must sign the same extracurricular code of conduct.
Tanisha Graves, a parent of two students at Ithaca High School, said home-schooled children should have the option to participate in public school’s sports.
“I am certain it would change the dynamics of in-school sports teams,” said Graves, “But for the better.”
Although Madigan has received support from the local community, home-schooled children will not be eligible to participate in public school athletics until the New York State legislature amends the current regulation.
Madigan said she has no plans of closing her petition. She will continuously send it to the New York State legislature as it grows in signatures.