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September 14, 2015

Eligibility for Sports Marginally Improved

Dee Black Senior Counsel Dee Black answers questions and assists members with legal issues in Tennessee. He and his wife homeschooled their children.

On March 11, 2015, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA), the organization that determines eligibility of homeschool students to participate in sports in public and private schools, amended its bylaws to slightly improve the requirements. Formerly, only students being homeschooled through the local education agency (LEA) were permitted to participate, and these students were prohibited from also being enrolled in another homeschool program through a church-related school. In other words, the previous bylaws prohibited any type of dual enrollment by a homeschool student desiring to participate in extracurricular sports. By virtue of the recent amendments, the bylaws continue to require that students be homeschooled through the LEA but also permit a student to be enrolled in a church-related school at the same time. Students whose parents make this election must comply with state law for both homeschool options.

Most homeschooling parents in Tennessee choose one of the church-related school options because of the support provided by the school and the absence of state oversight. Accordingly, these parents were reluctant to sever the relationship with their church-related school and homeschool only through the LEA in order to meet the previous eligibility requirements of the TSSAA. The current bylaws provide some measure of accommodation to these parents by permitting dual enrollment, the downside being that they will have to comply with the legal requirements of two homeschool options instead of just one.

The eligibility provisions of the TSSAA Bylaws as set forth in Article II, Section 25 (Home School Rule) and Frequently Asked Questions appear online. Of note is the deadline of August 1 for a homeschool student to be registered with the director of schools of a LEA or the head of school for a private school. By August 15 of the school year, the parent or guardian must make application for participation in athletics to the principal of the school in which the homeschool student wishes to try out and possibly participate.

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