Board debating policy barring homeschoolers from district sports

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MAHOMET, Ill. (WCIA) — School board members in the Mahomet-Seymour school district could be poised to reverse a policy that bars homeschool students from playing on district sports teams. 

It’s not necessarily an anomaly: three other area schools also don’t allow homeschool students to play district sports, including Champaign’s Unit 4, Monticello, and Gibson-City-Melvin-Sibley. 

But it’s still one that new board member Colleen Shultz hopes the board will consider changing.

Shultz showed a draft of the proposed policy Monday afternoon at a school board policy meeting. 

“Financially, homeschool parents pay the same taxes as everyone else,” she said. “We’re not asking the school district to create activities for the homeschool students. Parents would pay the activity fees and anything else that goes along with it.” 

On the state level, the Illinois High School Association requires two things of homeschool students hoping to play public school sports: they must live within district limits, and have their curriculum approved by district officials. 

The latter had some M-S officials concerned. 

“To encapsulate the policy in a nutshell, if the (school board) chooses to implement the policy… we would be saying that you can never cross the threshold of our schools, and we would award you a diploma — because we’re giving them credit,” district athletic director Matt Hensley said. “Nobody has asked for a diploma, but in a philosophical way, we’re saying that what you’re doing in your home is the exact same as what we’re doing in our building.” 

Shultz said that she knew many homeschooling families in Mahomet-Seymour use Classical Conversations, a Christian-based homeschool curriculum. If the district approved that curriculum, she said, it would apply to a significant number of families interested, meaning a new vetting process wouldn’t be necessary each time a student signed up. 

Board member Lori Larson said numerical data was needed for the board to fully consider the ramifications of the policy — including financial implications for the district. 

“It would be good to know what people are interested in and how many people are we talking about,” she said. 

Larson also said the board needed to what district employee would be tasked with vetting homeschool curriculums.

“You’re adding a responsibility to someone’s job,” she said. “It’s a hurdle.”  

Shultz was tasked with gathering that information before the board meets again in October to review Monday’s proposed policies.

“I will be happy to gather my best approximation and even get some ideas,” Shultz said, adding that her data would likely be estimates because “I’m doing this as a general policy (change) that’s not driven by anything in particular.” 

Board member Meghan Hennesy said the topic has come up multiple times in her seven years of living within district limits.

“I think (this comes) as a result of hearing from people in our community who are taxpayers who are saying, ‘We would really like you to look into this,’ so I think what we’re doing is listening to the public and saying we’ll explore that.” 

Shultz’s policy proposal also included a section on non-athletic extracurricular activities. As presented Monday, it allowed homeschool students to participate in activities like competitive speech if “the student attends a district school for at least one course during the regular school term, excluding lunch.”

New board member Ken Keefe also gave a policy presentation centered on voting transparency.

Keefe’s short time on the board following his April election has been controversial: most recently, he was criticized after using his credit card processing company for donations at a PTO fundraiser.

Keefe has also faced controversy on the school board after filing complaints with the Attorney General’s office for alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act by past boards — including members who are currently serving. 

Keefe said he wanted to see more of a paper trail documenting how board members vote on agenda items.

“When I was looking at current policy, one of the questions I had was, ‘How did this decision get made that we needed to have this policy?’ I would want to see who voted for it and who voted against it,” he said. “Maybe they can help me understand more about why that change happened.” 

He proposed a form that could be filled out post-meeting where each member’s vote on a particular item could be recorded. 

Other policy talks Monday afternoon included codifying into the board’s policy manual what rated movies would be shown to which grades, as well as potential updates to the district’s technology policies.

The next board meeting that could include votes on the proposed changes is slated for October 21.

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