Update: The Collingswood Board of Education announced at their regular meeting on 1/29/2018 that the Board decided that they will stand with their current policies: That homeschooled students will not have access to the district's Extracurricular activities. As a result of this decision, a collective has started to advocate in favor of Letting Collingswood Homeschoolers Play they have started circulating a petition. At the 8/28/2017 Board of Education Meeting a representative spoke on behalf of homeschooling families in the district- a small community of about six families. The purpose was to address the current district policy regarding the participation of homeschoolers in athletics and extracurricular activities. This is some of the information presented to the board that evening.
Homeschool Students Currently Do Not Have Access To Extracurricular Activities At Collingswood Schools
A quick summary for those who are not familiar with the laws regarding homeschoolers’ access to extracurriculars: In our country, 31 states have laws guaranteeing access to taxpayer-funded public education programs. The state of New Jersey does allow homeschoolers to participate in activities but at the discretion of the local board of education. This is also the policy of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association- homeschooled athletes can participate at the discretion of the school board, provided they have complied with the NJSIAA guidelines.
There are currently two bills in our state legislature, introduced in 2016, that would guarantee access to athletics for homeschooled students- Assembly Bill 2722 and Senate Bill 1203. These were referred to the education committee.
How districts across our state choose to handle this issue is mixed- some have policies in place that explicitly forbid participation in sports and extracurricular activities, while others support the inclusion of homeschooled students and outline clearly defined processes for participation, and many more have vague policies that do not speak specifically to inclusion or exclusion. In Collingswood, homeschooled students are specifically excluded from non-competitive co-curricular activities in Policy R-2430 and from high school level athletics in Policy 2431-M and 2430.
Here is more from the presentation that was made during the meeting:
I am here tonight because I would like to propose that the board revise the current policy to allow for participation by homeschooled students in extracurricular activities and athletics, set forth a procedure for who should consider those requests, and outline a specific process for parents of those students who wish to participate to follow. I’ve drafted possible revisions to our existing policies, using as a template the policies of other school districts in our state that have successfully incorporated homeschoolers into their public education programs. Some districts in Camden County that have done this are Haddon Heights, Haddonfield, Camden City public schools, and there are many others across other counties in our state. I’ve tried to address some of the main issues that people may have with this policy change and create a system that’s fair for all students. Some main points: All students should be residents of Collingswood school district, should comply with the same requirements as students at district schools- insurance, physical examinations, age, fees, academics. I’ve incorporated a procedure for submitting a written request to participate to the school principal prior to the activity beginning.
In regards to academic eligibility, I realize that area can be tricky because of New Jersey’s homeschooling laws- not every family will have something concrete like test scores to support their certification of academic eligibility. In addition to certifying in writing that their child is receiving an academically equivalent education, I’ve also allowed for the principal to request additional evidence at their discretion, such as a description of classes the student is currently taking, a portfolio of work, schedule of study, or any other measurements of progress that are available for review.
One objection I’ve heard to this type of change is: If you want the advantages of the public school system, then enroll your kids. If that’s where you’re coming from tonight, I ask that you consider if allowing that inclination to dictate our school district policy is really what is in the best interest of our kids and our community. I know that everyone in this room tonight is here because they care about the kids of our borough, and I want to believe that you’ll approach this with a kids-first mentality. If you have concerns about financial resources, the impact of making this change will be minor. All of the homeschoolers I know in the district are homeowners who pay a significant amount of property taxes that are invested in our local schools, and the outlay required to include these kids is comparatively small.
We’ve had wonderful experiences with the educators in the Collingswood school district, but we also love the flexibility that homeschooling has allowed us, giving our family the opportunity to provide our kids an education that’s tailored to their capabilities and personalities.
The reasons that a family has for choosing homeschooling can vary widely, but no one makes that decision lightly. I’ve known some families who homeschool for medical reasons- their child has a life-threatening allergy, or a delicate condition like diabetes that is difficult for a young child to monitor closely. One of my kids also fell into this category, where regular attendance at school would be extremely stressful and challenging at times.
Some families homeschool for academic reasons- to accommodate their child’s unique learning style or disability, or to tailor a curriculum that’s a perfect match for their child’s needs. I’ve met other families who want the flexibility that homeschooling provides, to accommodate a parent’s schedule, or desire to travel, or to school year-round. Every child and family is different, and a one size fits all approach to education isn’t always the best solution.
But we recognize that homeschooling has its limitations, which brings us back to extracurricular activities. Being a part of a team or club can allow a child to develop responsibility and leadership skills, learn the value of competition and good sportsmanship, and explore a wider range of interests than a parent might be able to provide for. Let’s face it- band, choir, theater – these types of activities just don’t work solo. I can enroll my kids in music lessons, but they won’t have the same, rich experience that they would- by playing as part of a group. In the instances where homeschool families have stepped in to fill that need, it tends to require a great deal of travel to far-flung areas of the state in order to take part. Rec league sports fills the need for athletics in the early years, but eventually kids age out of those programs. If a high school student is homeschooled and passionate about a certain sport, he should be able to play and have the opportunity to earn college scholarships like the other kids in the borough.
It’s about creating a level playing field for these kids. These programs offer students the opportunity for growth, experience, and socializing, and are an important part of raising a well-rounded individual. Our community as a whole benefits when there’s equality and all kids have access.
Our families have strong ties to the community and our kids already have great friendships with other children within the school system. We are by and large very involved in rec league programs and would welcome the opportunity to also volunteer and support the schools’ clubs, arts, and athletics programs. We recognize that this relationship would be a two-way street and fully intend to give back to the school community as well. We are hopeful that by addressing the current policy, we will have an opportunity to partner with our friends in the Collingswood schools in the future.
Camden County school districts that explicitly allow homeschooled students to participate in athletics and/or extracurricular activities:
- Camden City Public Schools
- Haddon Heights
A partial list of school districts outside of Camden County:
- Ocean City
- Atlantic City
- Barnegat Township
- Egg Harbor Township
- Brick Township
- Freehold Regional High School District
- Westwood Regional
- Wall Township
- Pequannock Township
- South Hunterdon Regional
- High Point Regional