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Let all students participate

A proposal to open sports participation to all students who take part in online virtual and charter school programs is a necessary step to ensure students are treated fairly, but changes need to be made to ensure academic and student conduct standards are being met.

SB 705 was introduced by Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R, Marathon) and allows a student who attends a virtual charter school to participate in interscholastic athletics and extracurricular activities in the students’ resident school district.

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, under current law, a school board must allow a homeschooled student who resides in the school district to participate in interscholastic athletics and extra curricular activities. Current law further provides that a school board may charge a home-schooled student a participation fee on the same basis that the school board charges participation fees to students enrolled in the district.

This bill extends these provisions to students who attend a virtual charter school.

While the original text of the bill also prohibits schools from being in the WIAA if it does not accept these students, an amendment made in committee by Sen. Petrowski takes out that section.

The bill rights a wrong to virtual school students when the homeschooled students were given the OK to participate in sports in their home districts several years ago. At the time, virtual schools were to be included, but were cut out as part of a compromise to get the bill passed.

According to Rural Virtual Academy (RVA) administrator Charlie Heckel, students who reside in schools that are part of the RVA consortium (including Greenwood, Loyal and Spencer) can currently participate in sports and clubs in their resident districts, but those who open enroll into the consortium cannot.

The RVA and other virtual schools have set curriculum being taught by certified staff and are subject to the same testing standards as traditional brick and mortar schools. Preventing students in these programs from participating in sports and activities while allowing the completely unregulated home-schooled students to participate undermines the concept of fairness.

In overhauling Statute 118.133, the Legislature should also address the gaping hole that requires districts to accept at face value that the student participant meets age, academic and disciplinary requirements to participate in the sport or activity.

Current law states, “The school board may not question the accuracy or validity of the statement or request additional information.”

This is patently absurd and opens the door to those who would cheat the system by having someone compete in a sport or participate in an activity who does not have to follow the standrds set for all other students.

Let virtual school and homeschooled students play and participate in their resident schools, but hold them to the same standards as traditional students. At a time when student athletes are coming under increased scrutiny to not just be good on the field but to excel in the classroom and be models of good behavior in their personal lives, there should be no loopholes that allow anyone to cheat the system.