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July 27, 2005

Federal Judge Orders State Athletic Association to Permit Homeschool Students to Compete on Private School Teams

On July 19, the Maryland Board of Education ended 6 months of turmoil by adopting a new rule allowing homeschooled students to compete on private school sports teams.

For many years, homeschoolers had been allowed to play on the sports teams of willing private schools without adverse consequences. In January 2005, however, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association (MPSSAA), which includes many private schools, surprised the state by announcing that private school teams would lose their eligibility to compete in MPSSAA events if they allowed homeschoolers on their teams.

Shocked homeschool parents swung into action and filed suit in federal court against MPSSAA alleging violations of state and federal law. The parents asked Judge Motz to make an immediate decision via a motion for summary judgment. In response, the judge said he thought the new MPSSAA policy was unjustifiable unless homeschoolers were receiving an inferior education.

Carlos Sandoval, the attorney representing the parents, asked for HSLDA's assistance in proving that homeschoolers receive an excellent education. Rushing to meet Judge Motz's short deadline, HSLDA attorney Scott A. Woodruff prepared a 68-page affidavit documenting the success of homeschooling. The affidavit included many studies of homeschoolers' academic success.

The judge was convinced. He told the MPSSAA that homeschool students must be allowed to play on private teams. The rules and standards of competition adopted on July 19 were the result.

Some of the new standards of competition require a homeschool student to:

  1. Be affiliated with and represent the private school during the entire school year;
  2. Refrain from representing more than one school during one academic year unless the student's primary residence changes;
  3. Comply with the private school's own requirements; and
  4. Be homeschooled pursuant to Maryland homeschool regulations.

Some of the new standards require the private school to:

  1. Obtain written permission from the parents for their child to play on the team;
  2. Make sure each student has passed a medical exam;
  3. Make sure the student is "registered" in a "bona fide" home instruction program as defined in the Maryland homeschool regulations;
  4. Make sure the student makes "educational progress" in all required subjects while on the team;
  5. Permit homeschool students to compete in no more than 4 seasons from the 9th through 12th grades; and
  6. If a student enrolled in a private school becomes ineligible to compete because of academic or disciplinary reasons, enrollment in a homeschool program does not remove the ineligibility.

While not perfect (for example, homeschoolers don't "register," they simply file a notice), the standards of competition reopen the door that was slammed shut in January and pave the way for homeschoolers to resume participation on private school teams.