Homeschoolers fighting to play for public school teams (cont.)
"However, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to enroll your child in our schools," Beauchamp wrote, "and would welcome your support of our schools."
That didn't sit well with Steve and his wife, Tirzah. They contend that because they pay taxes, they already support the public school system, and they don't understand why their son is being denied the right to take advantage of a service for which they already pay.
"It's some kind of discrimination," Tirzah said. "It's some kind of fear, and I don't know what it is. Businesses not too long ago realized that homeschoolers are an asset, and they're courting them. Colleges are wanting homeschoolers because they're good students."
In a discussion about the rule, Steve Douglas posed an interesting question. What if Tebow had grown up in Clinton, La.? Bob and Pam Tebow, Christian missionaries, probably would have homeschooled their children regardless of where they lived. Would Tim Tebow, playing for a homeschool team, have turned into a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback? Or would he be just another congenitally muscular college student with a crew cut?
For his part, Tebow is grateful homeschool advocate Brenda Dickinson lobbied the Florida legislature to allow homeschoolers to play at public schools in the state. Dickinson fought two years for the law, and she always had the support of Republicans, but she didn't gain traction until after a uniform flap got a girls track team disqualified from a meet. The state's women's caucus took up the cause and accused the Florida High School Activities Association of gender discrimination.
Dickinson sensed an opportunity, and she met with the female state representatives and senators to discuss her bill. When the women learned Dickinson was taking on the FHSAA, they pledged to support her bill. "I had the most conservative men in the legislature," Dickinson said, "and the most liberal women." In 1996, the legislature passed the Craig Dickinson Act -- named after Brenda's late husband -- which guarantees that "an individual home education student is eligible to participate at the public school to which the student would be assigned according to district school board attendance area policies ... or may develop an agreement to participate at a private school, in the interscholastic extracurricular activities of that school."
The rule allowed Tebow's older brother, Robby, to play, and the rest of the Tebow siblings followed. "I was blessed," Tebow said last week. "I loved being homeschooled and having the opportunity to play. I think a lot of homeschoolers should have that opportunity. As time goes by, probably more laws will change."
Maybe. Maybe not. Alabama homeschool advocates have fought for several years to get the "Tim Tebow Bill" passed in their state. The bill died in a house committee in 2006, but its supporters have not quit. After a hearing in Alabama's senate education committee this past April, the bill received new life. It now is known as Senate Bill 305.
In West Virginia, parents Daniel and Christy Jones filed suit against the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission in 2002. Their homeschooled son, Aaron, was not allowed to play sports at a public school in their district. On Sept. 23, 2003, a circuit court judge ruled in favor of the Joneses. But in 2005, the West Virginia Supreme Court overturned that ruling. Justice Robin Davis wrote the majority opinion. "...the parents of homeschooled children have voluntarily chosen [Davis' emphasis] not to participate in the free public school system in order to educate their children at home. In making this choice, these parents have also chosen to forego the privileges incidental to a public education, one of which is the opportunity to qualify for participation in interscholastic athletics."
The Douglases believe in homeschooling. Steve, younger brother William and younger sister Anna are second-generation homeschoolers. When Tirzah was young, her father moved the family from Wisconsin to Pass Christian, Miss., because Mississippi's lack of a compulsory attendance law at the time allowed for homeschooling. Tirzah either teaches her children or supervises their online courses. The Douglases, who are devout evangelical Christians, disapprove of some of the lessons taught in public schools. For example, Steve does not want his children to take science classes that teach evolution as fact. "The thing I was most concerned with was teaching from a Christian perspective," Steve said. "We teach science from a creation standpoint. The theory of evolution is just a theory, and not a very good one."
On a typical day, Stevie wakes up, reads his Bible and begins his school day. He takes math courses using a computer program, and Tirzah guides him through history and science courses. Because Stevie competes on a homeschool debate team, he also studies composition and rhetoric.