RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday passed a bill that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports.
HB 1578, widely known as the “Tebow Bill” after former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, would give home-schoolers the chance to participate in high school sports and other interscholastic activities. The vote was 60-38.
Sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, the law is modeled after legislation in other states. Bell has perennially introduced similar bills since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s bills passed the General Assembly and were sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed them.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Virginia High School League rules prohibited home-schoolers from participating in high school sports after eighth grade. Bell described his bill as a “chance to try out” the idea, as the law will “sunset” on July 1, 2022, thus requiring the General Assembly to revisit the issue in five years.
Under the new law, local school boards will be allowed to decide whether to allow home-schoolers to participate in their schools’ athletic programs. School districts will not be required to do so.
In addition, Bell said the law contains several provisions that would prevent it from being abused to circumvent academic ineligibility.
Students will be required to play for the school in their home district; they cannot choose where to play.
Students who want to participate in their local school’s athletics will be required to pass standardized tests and other requirements for at least two consecutive years. They will also have to meet all immunization requirements necessary to play high school sports.
Schools will be allowed to charge students “reasonable fees” to cover the costs of participation, thereby easing the burden on taxpayers, Bell said.
The issue rose to national prominence in 2007 when ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” featured Tebow and several other home-schooled students across the country seeking access to high school athletics.
Thanks to legislation passed in his home state in 1996, Tebow was allowed to play football at Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian Academy and later, at nearby Allen D. Nease High School, where he was eventually named a high school All-American.
Since then, Tebow and former NFL defensive end Jason Taylor, who also played high school football while being home-schooled in Pennsylvania, have campaigned across the country to advocate for laws to allowing home-schoolers to play for their local high schools.
In 2008, Tebow received the Quaqua Protege Award as an “outstanding home-education graduate” for his work.