Bradley County weighs athletics policy for homeschoolers

Bradley County weighs athletics policy for homeschoolers

August 10th, 2011 by Randall Higgins in News

David Thompson, 14, stands on the Walker Valley High School football field in Cleveland, Tenn. David, who is home-schooled, has been denied permission to play football with Walker Valley Schools. Last December the TSSAA ruled that home-schooled children are allowed to play in public school athletics.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

Bradley County's two high school principals and two middle school principals told the County School Board Tuesday they oppose making room for home-school students on public school athletic teams.

The question arose this summer when Craig Thompson asked that his son David be allowed to play football at Walker Valley High School.

The question will be on the County School Board's agenda Thursday for a vote. The Board meets at 5:30 at the central office on South Lee Highway.

All four principals, and Dan Glascock, secondary education supervisor, and some board members said the request puts them in a sensitive situation. They have friends who home-school children.

"There's nobody against anybody here,'' said board Chairman Troy Weathers at the close of a two-hour work session on the subject. However the vote goes Thursday to change board policy, he said, the result will not be about the children.

Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel

Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel

Photo by Randall Higgins /Times Free Press.

If the board changes its policy, for now it would be for one student, Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said. But it could open the door for others and for extracurricular activities other than sports like music and drama. It might be better, he advised, to wait and see if the Tennessee Legislature makes a decision statewide.

Thompson spoke to the board first.

"I home-school not because I hate public schools," he said after reading a statement that paraphrased Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. "I home-school because I believe I can give my children a wider range of opportunities to experience an adult level of decision making at an earlier age.

"This chance to play football at Walker Valley High School is an opportunity I want for my son because I want him to be able to use his leadership skills and develop them," Thompson said.

Joel Brown, a Bradley County resident who teaches in Murray County, Ga., public schools, said he and his wife chose to home school their children because "on average they out-perform public school students."

"Home school does have one weakness," Brown said. "That is the lack of a large-scale extracurricular type activities."

Football is not about Friday night, the principals said. It is part of public education, they said.

Board member David Kelley said he understands home-school families. His daughter went to a private Christian school, he said, before he became acquainted with Bradley County Schools.

"I am proud of these people," Kelley said. "They are the cream of the crop."

Home-school children could have a positive influence on some public school children and vice versa, he said.

And public schools mean all the public, Kelley said, because they vote for school board members and pay taxes.

Walker Valley Principal Danny Coggin said Kelley's statement made him feel "like a second class citizen" after 33 years in public education.

"I'm not against this young man. But I am for the 1,546 kids that come to Walker Valley every day," Coggin said.

Bradley Central High School Principal Todd Shoemaker said his school's team just got their letter jackets for the season.

"They wear that jacket with pride. It's not about Friday night. It's about Bradley Central High School. It's about all that goes on in that school all week," he said.

"The question is, what is the right thing to do?" said board member Vicki Beaty.

POLL: Should home-schooled students be allowed to play public school sports?

"We've got cream of the crop in our schools," Weathers said.

Many families, he said, cannot afford for a parent to stay home to teach. Many children depend on public schools for extracurricular activities that make them feel "plugged in" to the community, he said.

How would local schools be able to verify home-school grades that meet standards for playing athletics, asked Board member Christy Critchfield. And making a mistake, she said, could jeopardize an entire team.