TOPEKA — Douglass High School activities director Jason Menard says there’s no justification for a Kansas House bill rewriting state law to make virtual school, homeschool and nonaccredited private school students eligible for extracurricular activities in the public school district where they reside.
Menard, president of the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, urged the House K-12 Education Budget Committee on Monday to reject the bill and affirm the state’s system of providing sports, music, debate and other opportunities to bona fide students of a public school district who participate only if compliant with attendance, academic and behavior standards set by the local Board of Education and the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
He said the legislation would disrupt an approach to education that blended classroom experiences with lessons learned through involvement in more than 15 KSHSAA-sanctioned activities.
“One thing we teach our students every day, is that there are positive and negative consequences to every decision,” Menard said. “Students and parents that choose the homeschool setting are doing so because they felt it was in their best academic or social interests. But by choosing the homeschool route, you are also forgoing opportunities to participate in their local school’s activities.”
The committee took no action on House Bill 2511, but chairwoman Kristey Williams, a Republican from Augusta, expressed support for the bill likely to gain traction among conservative lawmakers fond of school choice. While no one testified in support of the bill, Williams said written testimony in favor of it was submitted after the deadline and wasn’t made public.
The bill would place into state law a requirement KSHSAA employees and board members be mandatory reporters of alleged student abuse or neglect. Currently, 73 of the 79 members of the KSHSAA board of directors are employees of Kansas school districts and fall under existing law making them mandated reporters. The other six, appointees of the state Board of Education or Gov. Laura Kelly, are mandatory reporters due to employment or licensing status.
Williams said students educated in home or virtual settings would be enriched by taking part in extracurricular activities at the 286 public school districts in Kansas. The influx of athletes or performers would be a boon in public school districts with shrinking enrollment, she said.
Under the bill, the private-education newcomers would be required to adhere to age, vaccination and fee-payment rules of their public school peers. They wouldn’t be held to academic course enrollment and completion standards applied to public school students takin part in extracurricular offerings.
Williams labeled Kansas a “no access” state in terms of opening public school activities and sports to homeschool and virtual school students. She said 20 states offered homeschooled students access to public school programs, while 10 states guaranteed partial access to homeschoolers.
“That’s building bridges, not walls,” Williams said. “It’s a progressive thought. One-hundred percent. Kids benefit when you let them play.”
The House bill would allow the homeschool or virtual school — not the public school district administrator — decide whether a student qualified for extracurricular activities. The roster of KSHSAA-sponsored activities includes basketball, bowling, cross country, football, golf, gymnastics, soccer, swimming, tennis, track, volleyball, wrestling as well as debate, drama, music, piano, scholars bowl, speech and spirit activities.
It’s the principle
Bill Faflick, executive director of the state High School Activities Association, said that since the 1970s the association granted small, nonaccredited private schools and homeschool organizations a chance to compete against KSHSAA member schools in regular season and invitation competitions. In the 2021-22 school year, 30 alternative schools were on the list.
He said 100,000 Kansas students attending accredited private and public schools with membership in KSHSAA earned the right on a semester-by-semester basis to be part of extracurricular activities. Passage of House Bill 2511, which guaranteed eligibility for students who chose to homeschool or go to virtual school, would be a disservice to those 100,000 students, he said.
“To grant automatic eligibility to homeschool children to play on another school’s team, where they have no standing or connection, fundamentally changes the nature of school activity groups and teams as extensions of the sponsoring school. The philosophical basis of all KSHSAA activities is that the student responsibilities come before being an athlete. This bill changes that foundational principle,” Faflick said.
He said it would transform high school teams into community teams competing in a recreational or club league.
“Will the Legislature grant eligibility for non-students to play on Kansas junior college, college or university teams in the same manner?” Faflick said.
Rep. Patrick Penn, a Wichita Republican on the House committee considering the bill, said he took exception to Faflick’s reference to students with no “standing or connection” to a public school district. He accused Faflick of intolerance for Black and Indigenous people as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people by denying them a chance at extracurricular activities in public schools.
“The people who pay the taxes, aren’t they the taxpayers?” Penn asked Faflick, who responded affirmatively. “So, are you saying you’re in favor of discriminating against taxpaying students from the LGBTQIA, the Indigenous people and the Black community just because they don’t attend your public schools?”
Faflick said he didn’t support discrimination of any person for any reason.
“I find some of your comments here a little abrasive and offensive,” Penn said.
Williams picked up the thread on “standing” by suggesting to Faflick that families paying property taxes in support of public education had a financial stake in local school districts. She said the owner of a $120,000 house in Andover or Sterling paid about $935 annually in property taxes for public schools.
“That piece of your testimony was a little concerning, considering the type of economic benefit those parents are providing the school district,” Williams said.
Keith Hall, superintendent of the Thunder Ridge district in Kensington, said experience showed and research affirmed students need to be on campus, in person, for the full day and not just show up for sports activities.
He said Thunder Ridge allowed remote learning for students unable to attend regular classes and agreed some of these students could participate in extracurricular activities. A portion are tempted to skip alternative school classes and show up for their favorite activities, he said.
“This bill, in the best interest of students, should be denied,” Hall said. “If you must move this bill forward, at the very least students should be enrolled in their home institution to allow the parents and school board to keep the local personal relationship strong and have an opportunity to create an environment that the local community supports. It should not be a springboard to allow a distant, impersonal institution that cares nothing about our students or community to raid our school district of our students and diminish the education they deserve.”
Phil Bressler, principal at Sterling Junior and Senior High School, said authors of the bill missed a basic reality that school-based activities were part of enrolling as a student in Sterling.
“Just because a school event is open to the community does not make it a community event. Similarly, the local Independence Day parade is not a school event simply because the school band marches in it,” Bressler said.
Holton High School principal Rod Wittmer said lack of state requirements that homeschools hire licensed personnel, offer specific curriculum and subject themselves to audits justified unease about legislation requiring the blending of students in public school districts.
He said the result could be emergence of a sports-first or sports-only environment.
“If this is what parents want, then they already have club sports at their disposal,” Wittmer said. “If parents and students want to participate in public school activities and want to have the sense of community with classmates and teammates, then our doors are always open for their enrollment and participation.”
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