Hamilton County Schools will let home-schoolers play ball beginning this winter sports season, provided the students register with the school system.
The Board of Education approved on Thursday evening letting home-schooled students participate in public school athletics after previously turning down the same issue.
In July, the school board voted 6-2 against letting in home-schoolers, after a poll of principals showed little support for the move. But Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade said administrators changed their minds once they were better informed.
Board members voted 7-1 Thursday, with Everett Fairchild casting the only dissenting vote. Board member Chip Baker was absent.
Fairchild said he was concerned that principals would be responsible for unfamiliar children. He also was concerned about recruitment and eligibility issues with home-schooled students.
"It's difficult for me to understand how the principals would recommend this," he said. "It's a lot of responsibility on them."
The debate over the issue was opened by a 2010 bylaw change from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association that allows participation in extracurricular athletics, pending the home-schooled students meet certain qualifications and receive the approval of the local school board.
Critics point out that TSSAA's new rule keeps out an estimated 90 percent of home-schoolers who are taught through church-related home schools. To play, TSSAA requires students to be registered through their local school district - a route many families dislike because of the associated schooling regulations.
Some have raised concerns that coaches would begin recruiting home-schooled students. But McDade said TSSAA will allow students to play only for the public school in the district where they live.
Students who are approved to participate in school sports will have to try out for teams. But even then, Superintendent Rick Smith, a former coach, said the experience won't be the same for home-schoolers as it is for public school students.
"You have kids in your building when you're coaching that you see in the halls," he said. "There are things about that that home-school students just wont be a part of."
In other business Thursday, the school board:
• Elected Mike Evatt as its chairman and George Ricks as the vice chairman. Board member David Testerman was selected as the board's representative to the Tennessee Legislative Network.
• Voted 7-1, after much discussion, to spend $9,999 for six East Ridge Middle School teachers to attend a one-day conference in New York City. The cost includes $963.50 per person for lodging, $500 each for transportation and $203 each for meals. Board member Rhonda Thurman voted no on the motion.
• Voted 6-2 to uphold the suspension of a female alternative school student. Board members George Ricks and Jeffrey Wilson voted against the measure. The student was appealing the principal's decision. The board could have overturned the decision or held its own hearing on the matter.