In a ceremony on Monday afternoon, Governor Nikki Haley signed legislation that will allow students who are educated outside of the public school system to participate in extracurricular activities, provided they do not attend a private school.
The bill, S 149 (viewable here), goes into effect immediately, and it allows students who are home-schooled, attend charter schools or attend the Governor’s Schools in Greenville or Hartsville, to participate in extracurricular activities in their home district.
Formally known as the Equal Access to Interscholastic Activities Act, but referred to as the Tim Tebow Act, the bill has been in the works since December of 2010 and proposed in one form or another since the mid-1990s.
Tebow, the former University of Florida quarterback, was home-schooled by his mother, and she has been one of the most vocal supporters of making extracurricular activities available to students not in the traditional classroom.
While the bill names charter school students and Governor’s School Students as beneficiaries, home-schooled students were the ones addressed most prominently by elected officials.
To that end, Haley signed the bill at Midlands Home School Resource Center in Lexington before dozens of students, teachers and parents who crammed into a tiny room with members of the media, while another large group of students waited outside for the ceremony to end and get a picture with the governor.
Among those in attendance was Matthew Aurednik of Red Bank. An incoming senior, Matthew is a nationally-recognized soccer player who has been on various club teams, including the Providence Athletic Club, which allows home-schooled athletes in the Midlands area to compete in sports. Matthew will not play soccer with his local high school this year, but his mom Jennifer said the passage of the bill means he and his middle school-aged sister can participate in other extracurricular activities.
South Carolina joins 29 other states with similar legislation on the books. Haley said she believed the bill came to fruition due to the persistence of parents and children who argued their case to their state representatives and helped the “planets align” after so many years of similar bills dying in committee.
Among those who helped get the bill out of committee was Phil Owens (R – Pickens), who chairs the Education and Public Works Committee. “(S 149) puts the interest of the child first. Not the administrators, not the school board, not the teachers,” Owens said. “I’m very happy to have been able to shepherd this through on the House side.”
State Superintendent Mick Zais said the bill will have a deeper impact than just improving sports teams and clubs. “The home-school parents pay school taxes just like everyone else and they want to see the local school excel,” Zais said. “The bill strengthens the bond between the school and the community.”
Haley echoed Zais sentiment. “This bill makes communities stronger,” she said. “We’ll see parents who can now make decisions that are in the best interests of their children and don’t have to choose between school and sports or band.”
Architects of the bill said they worked closely with the South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) to prevent manipulation of the new law. The SCHSL was instrumental in adding a provision that requires students to be home-schooled or at their new school for at least one year before participating in extracurricular activities. This provision would prevent students switching educational institutions simply for extracurricular activities.
Though the bill is now law, some districts are still in the process of trying to determine what exactly constitutes an extracurricular activity. Both Owens and Zais said they will begin work immediately on a definition that will eliminate any confusion.
One of the students affected by the confusion is Edgar Brown of Lexington-Richland District 5. A junior, Edgar aspires to attend the United States Naval Academy, and was interested in being in JROTC to help achieve that goal. However, he was informed by District 5 that he would not be able to participate in JROTC because it had a classroom component and a Carnegie Unit, both of which make it ineligible to be considered an extracurricular activity.
Since learning of District 5’s decision in late July, Edgar has reached out to his elected officials to intercede on his behalf and he presented his case to the officials in attendance on Monday. “It’s frustrating because I know being in JROTC can help me achieve my goals,” Edgar said. “I think (the school district) just has a hard time with change, but I think eventually they’ll come around.”
Zais agreed, “I am certain it was the intent of the General Assembly to include JROTC as an extracurricular activity.”