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Local state represenatative hoping to pass Tim Tebow law
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The Tim Tebow bill would allow homeschooled students to participate on public high schools' extracurricular teams. - photo by FCN file photo

Tebow mania never quite took off in Georgia.

State Rep. Todd Jones is hoping a bill that dons the same name as the former Florida quarterback has better traction.

Jones plans to introduce the Tim Tebow law this legislative session, which would allow homeschooled children to participate in extracurricular activities at public schools.

The law is named after the Heisman Trophy winner and first-round NFL draft pick who was homeschooled but allowed to star at Nease High School in Jacksonville, Florida.

The law is already on the books in several states but has yet to catch on in Georgia despite being introduced several times.

District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones
District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones
“Any time you introduce change into an organization, and it doesn’t matter if that organization is the Georgia High School Association, if it’s a school board – heck, if it’s your local rotary club – the fact is, change causes people to push back on a natural basis,” Jones said. “I understand that. I want to work with everyone to say, ‘Hey, how can we make this change most appropriate?’ Because at the end of the day, the very first person that we should be putting into our rubric is the student.”

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Homeschooling in Georgia has increased significantly in the past half-decade.

From 2014 to 2019, the state saw a 20% increase in the amount of homeschooled kids. So far this school year, the Georgia Department of Education has received Declaration of Intents, or DOIs, for 71,340 total students.

Parents planning to homeschool their children must submit a DOI to the Georgia Department of Education 30 days after establishing a home study program, then annually by Sept. 1.

Georgia Department of Education Director of Communications Meghan Frick expects that number to grow because DOIs are submitted on a rolling deadline.

Last year, the Georgia Department of Education received DOIs for 77,115 students, which is the most ever.

However, those students are not eligible to participate in extracurricular programs at public schools in Forsyth County, which illustrates Jones’ intended goal.

A similar bill was introduced to the General Assembly last year, and in April, the Georgia High School Association’s executive committee struck down a proposal, 47-19, that would have allowed homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular programs.

Still, enough interest exists throughout the state to make it a central issue.

“I think we’re all at the point where we know it’s going to happen someday,” Forsyth County Athletic Director Nathan Turner said. “But how does it happen?”

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How the legislation is written remains a concern and is one reason, Turner believes, why the GHSA struck down the proposal last year.

“I think two of the biggest things that people talk about are accreditation and governance,” Turner said. “There’s so many different homeschool programs. How does it all fit together, (and) how does it all tie together?”

Among those concerns is the ability to ensure parents don’t game the system. For example, if a public school declares a child academically ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities, what keeps their parents from enrolling the child in a different homeschool program to ensure the child remains on the team?

Jones, however, contends that post-high school institutions already trust parents to provide accurate information when it comes to academics.

“We commit homeschool parents, as you know, to provide to the state, effectively, ‘Did the child master that particular course?’ based on the standards that are required,” Jones said. “We absolutely trust that parent to provide that information to us. So, my question would be, if we are taking the parents’ feedback in terms of the students’ ability to master each one of the standards within, say, a math course or an English course, then I question why is there an accountability issue? Because we’re allowing that student, purely based on a homeschool environment, to move on to a technical school, to move on to higher ed, and to move on to the military it requires a high school diploma.”

Then there’s the issue of recruiting. If the Tim Tebow Act is passed into law, would homeschooled students have their pick of the entire county?

According to SB163, which was passed last year in the senate before dying in the house, “Resident school’ means the local school in which a student would be enrolled by virtue of his or her residence.”

Greg Dickens is executive director of the Georgia Association of Private & Parochial Schools, an organization comprised of 151 schools that allows homeschool students to participate in athletics.

His concern centers on whether homeschooled kids who participate in extracurricular activities will be classified by their age or their grade.

Homeschooled students go at their own pace, which allows many to speed through the curriculum. So, it’s not uncommon for a 12-year-old homeschooled student to take high school classes.

That’s why GAPPS classifies homeschooled students by age rather than grade, to avoid pitting kids who are supposed to be in middle school against kids who are actually in high school.

“We do have that mechanism in place,” Dickens said, “and that’s what I’m concerned about from the public-school system, is how do they gauge that or how do they deal with that scenario.”

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Right now, homeschooled kids have several options when it comes to extracurricular activities.

Forsyth Virtual Academy opened in 2010 and serves students from middle school to high school. Moreover, full-time students at Forsyth Virtual Academy are allowed to participate in extracurricular activities at their base school, which is assigned by Forsyth County Schools and determined by attendance zones.

Club sports are also an option. In fact, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy prohibits players from competing with their high school or middle school team.

Then there’s GAPPS. Dickens estimates the organization’s average school has about 80-100 students, with more than 80% of those schools offering extracurricular activities to homeschooled students. Dickens said the league has about 2,000 homeschooled students total.

He acknowledges that many of those small-school programs rely on homeschooled students to field teams, and it’s possible some of those teams will no longer exist if the Tim Tebow Act passes into law.

Still, he doesn’t see the merit in turning homeschooled kids away simply because they’ve chosen a less traditional form of education.

“It is fair to say that some of our schools, especially some in that Single A classification, without homeschooled students, they would not be able to provide certain sports,” Dickens said. “At the same time, who are we to say you can’t homeschool your kids, and if you do, you can’t play with us?”