Confusion about South Dakota’s newly revised equal access law nearly cost a homeschool student the opportunity to play football.

Until 2021, homeschool students had no legal right to participate in sports at public schools, so they were subject to the policies of each school board. Some welcomed homeschool students, others excluded them. There could have been more than 100 different policies on homeschool student sports participation across the state.

This changed on July 1, 2021, when Senate Bill 177 became effective. The new legislation was designed to level the playing field for homeschooled student-athletes and provide them with the same opportunity to participate in athletics and other activities that their traditionally educated peers enjoy. But not all school districts followed the changes closely or updated their policies to reflect the new law right away.

Bad Call

As a result, one homeschool student was told he could not try out for football because he was not enrolled in a Huron public school. The Schutt family lives in a neighboring school district but preferred participating in Huron district schools because it would mean a shorter commute for practices and games.

Mr. and Mrs. Schutt tried to appeal to the Huron school board on their son’s behalf, but the board voted to deny his open-enrollment application because their son was homeschooled. The Schutts were told that he must enroll for normal instruction in the public school if he wanted to play football, even though South Dakota law permits homeschool students to participate in the state’s open-enrollment program on the same basis as public school students.

Official Review

The Schutts were disappointed, but they didn’t think there was anything else they could do. They spoke with Julie Christian of Families for Alternative Instruction Rights in South Dakota (FAIRSD), a committee sponsored by The Education Alliance of Christian Home Educators in South Dakota (TEACHSD), who helped advocate for the new law. Julie recommended that they contact HSLDA right away.

I had already been working with Julie and other members of the FAIRSD committee regarding implementation of the new equal access law and was glad to jump in and help out.

After talking with the Schutts, I contacted the Huron superintendent, clarifying that South Dakota law now mandates that a school district shall grant applications for open enrollment from homeschool students, subject to limited exceptions not applicable to this case.

Call Reversed

The superintendent immediately reviewed district policy with legal counsel and agreed that the denial of open enrollment conflicted with South Dakota’s new law.

Recognizing that time was of the essence and prioritizing the interests of the Schutts’ aspiring young football player, the superintendent quickly notified coaches that homeschoolers are eligible to play football. The homeschool teen is now practicing with the team.

Because this official review didn’t take long, the Schutts were able to get back to football without much delay.

Any time there is a new law, some confusion over implementation is inevitable. We are grateful that we could help provide clarity and for this superintendent’s cooperation that led to a timely win-win for everyone.