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February 10, 2014

Public schools pushed to open sports teams to outsiders

House bill may compel teams to accept virtual school students.

INDIANAPOLIS — Dimitri and Wyatt Taylor hope to go out for sports at their local high school when they enter the ninth grade this fall. It may take legislative action to allow them to compete.

The twins from Johnson County attend a publicly funded “virtual” charter school with no sports program of its own. They’re counting on House Bill 1047, which would compel 408 schools that belong to the Indiana High School Athletic Association to open their sports programs to about 6,000 students enrolled in the web-based schools.

The bill faces fierce opposition from the IHSAA, which is already forced to accommodate many of a growing number of students who opt out of traditional public schools.

“I played sports when I was in high school, and I’d like my boys to have that same opportunity,” said Stacy Taylor, the twins’ mother. “There’s real value in learning how to play well with others.”

IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox doesn’t dispute that, but he doesn’t believe public high schools should have to bend their rules for students not in their system.

“They’ve made a choice to attend a virtual school, and we support their right to do that,” said Cox. “But with those choices come with consequences. And one of those consequences is giving up the extra-curricular programs at their local schools.”

A year ago, under pressure from the Legislature, the IHSAA made accommodations for home-schooled students who want to participate in sports.

Under its new rules, a home-schooled student must attend one class per day at his or her local public high school to play on one of its teams. The student athlete must also have been home-schooled for the previous three years and complete all statewide exams authorized by the Indiana Department of Education.

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