Conn. Home Schooler Wants Chance To Play Basketball With School Team
Laura Robertson loves basketball. And growing up in the shadow of the women's basketball powerhouse at the University of Connecticut, the 14-year-old has big basketball dreams--high school stardom, a college scholarship, and perhaps even a stint with the Women's National Basketball Association.
But when her local high school held its girls' basketball-team tryouts this past fall, Ms. Robertson, a left-handed guard, was nowhere to be found.
That's because as a home-schooled student, she was not eligible to play sports at Jonathan Law High School in Milford or any other public school in Connecticut.
Under the rules of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which governs sports in the state, students are allowed to participate in public school sports only if they are "bona fide members of the school in question."
"Members of a school team should go to that school," Anthony C. Mosa, the assistant executive director of the CIAC, said in a recent interview. "That's our rule."
Mr. Mosa noted that public school officials have no say over what students learn or are tested on in Connecticut home school settings. So it would be "fundamentally unfair," he said, to impose rigid academic and behavioral standards on public school athletes when home-schooled athletes do not have to play by the same rules.
Several states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Washington, and Wyoming, have passed laws requiring that public schools open sports and other extracurricular activities to home-schooled students, according to the Purcellville, Va.-based Home School Legal Defense Association. Other states are mulling over such policies. But most states leave decisions on whether to open activities to home schoolers to local districts.
"This is one of the bigger issues related to home schooling," said Rich Shipe, a spokesman for the association, who himself was home-schooled and went on to play soccer in college. "Parents are really serious about taking on this fight, and it's come up all over the country."
Milford, Conn., school officials, meanwhile, refuse to grant Laura Robertson part-time or any other special enrollment status to conform to CIAC rules, mainly, Superintendent Mary Jo Kramer said in a November letter to the Robertsons, because the district has no oversight of the girl's academic studies.
"In order for [Ms. Robertson] to be permitted to participate on the basketball team, I would be required to certify that [she] is a bona fide, full-time student receiving credit for graduation," Ms. Kramer wrote. "Our athletic program is not a program for all youngsters of high school age, regardless of whether or not they attend our schools."
Ms. Robertson has played in Milford recreational leagues for the past few years, but is too old to play this year. For several months now, her parents, Beatrice and Donald Robertson, have been seeking to change CIAC and Milford school policy, asking that the rules be modified to allow students such as their daughter to take part in public school sports. The Robertsons have even offered to have Laura--who has been home-schooled since she was 6--take a diagnostic test to prove that she passes academic muster.
"Laura has just thrived at home, and she doesn't want to go to public school. She just wants to play basketball," her mother said. "I'm sure she would be an asset to the [Jonathan Law] team," she said. "Other schools have made exceptions. Why can't Milford?"
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, roughly 1 million students are being home-schooled this school year, and that number has been growing by 20 percent a year. Sports participation has become a hot issue in part, Mr. Shipe of the association said, because the first big wave of home-schooled students has reached high school age, and, like Laura Robertson, many are too old to play on local recreational teams.
Perhaps one of the more famous arguments for letting home-schooled students play public school sports, Mr. Shipe said, is Jason Taylor, now a rookie defensive end with the Miami Dolphins, who was home-schooled in Pittsburgh and allowed to play on his local high school football team.