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Missouri homeschool families seek access to public school activities, teams

Annelise Hanshaw
Missouri Independent
State Sen. Jill Carter, R-Granby, proposes a bill to the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee in the Senate Lounge.

Homeschooled students came to Missouri’s Capitol last week in hopes they could convince lawmakers to allow them to participate in their local school district’s extracurricular activities.

A pair of bills were debated by the Senate education and workforce development committee aimed at expanding access to activities like sports and clubs to students who are homeschooled.

“Throughout my elementary school years, I participated in local school and city sponsored activities with my public-school peers,” Jonah Spieker, 16, told the Senate committee. “That came to an abrupt end when I entered the seventh grade. I was cut off from the athletic community that I’ve experienced my whole life.”

He could only play football in his local school’s team if he enrolled in two classes, according to Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) policy.

Spieker’s brother, Zeke, serves as a legislative assistant to Sen. Jill Carter, R-Granby, who is sponsoring one of the two bills heard last week that would do away with the two-class requirement.

Her bill seeks to bar schools from mandating more than one class for extracurricular participation. So, under her proposed legislation, a school could require a maximum of one class in grades 6-8 and one half-credit course in grades 9-12 to participate in a team or club.

“[Homeschool families] are involved in the community, participating in activities with other community members. Often, these events are taking place with a local high school,” Carter said. “This all changes when these kids reach seventh grade and MSHSAA takes over.”

Legislation by Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington, would cut out any course requirements. It seeks to prohibit school districts from joining extracurricular organizations, like MSHSAA, that require students to be enrolled in a class at a school to play on a team or participate in a club.

Brown said the homeschool families pay tax dollars to the school district and should have access to its clubs.

“The school district shall not prohibit the homeschool or full-time virtual school students from participating in athletic and extracurricular programs that are funded in part by their parents’ tax dollars,” he told the Senate committee.

Judah Meredith, a 13-year-old wrestler from Joplin, testified alongside his sibling that he’s heard arguments that there’s plenty of teams separate from schools that he could join.

“In small towns, there are very few of these,” he said. “And they are not usually at the same competitive level as activities through school.”

He is worried about the ability to play sports in college, like his dad did, because he isn’t going to participate on his high school’s team.

Larry Davis, a former superintendent of the Prairie Home School District, recalled a year that MSHSAA’s rules prohibited the seventh grade girls’ basketball team from competing.

He said the team was one player short, and a sixth-grade girl wanted to play. But, MSHSAA wouldn’t allow it.

“According to MSHSAA, it was better for those four students not to have a sport that year than for me to use a sixth grader or heaven forbid a homeschooler,” he said, continuing, “This is the only time in their life they can participate in these kinds of activities.”

No one testified in opposition to the legislation.

Kyna Iman, a lobbyist for the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education testified that sometimes a class can be required during the day for an extracurricular activity in the arts.

“If you want to play in a marching band, you can’t just show up for the Friday night routine,” she said. “So we do think that it is imperative that students attend. It’s a co-curricular class, like marching band class, to learn that routine.”

The committee did not vote on the bills after the hearing.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.

Annelise Hanshaw is an education reporter for The Missouri Independent.