East Ark. school districts welcome home-schooled kids for activities

FORREST CITY (Times-Herald) - A new state law that allows home-schooled children the opportunity to participate in activities such as sports, band and choir in their resident school district is being welcomed by officials in both the Forrest City and Palestine-Wheatley school districts.

Earlier this year, the Arkansas legislature passed Act 1469 of 2013, which allows home-schooled students the opportunity to participate in interscholastic activities, provided those students meet certain requirements. The legislative move came less than a year after the Arkansas Activities Association agreed to a similar measure.

According to FCSD superintendent Joye Hughes and Forrest City High School Principal Patti Long, there have been no district applicants to this point, but area home-schooled students are welcome to submit a letter in accordance with the law.

"As long as they meet the criteria in the law we'd welcome them to try out and participate under the law. We're still waiting on all of the rules, but if they get all of the information in to us before the deadlines, we're going to follow the law," said Hughes. "We haven't had any applicants, to my knowledge, and I don't know that we've had any phone calls from parents asking about it, but again, if they meet the requirements, we're going to welcome them," said Hughes.

Long also said she had not received any letters of intent from parents seeking to enroll their students under the law.

Palestine-Wheatley Superintendent Jon Estes also said there had been no applicants in the PWSD, but added he would also welcome home-schooled students to participate in interscholastic activities.

"We have not had any applicants that I know of, and it hasn't been an issue for us, but if Tim Tebow is out there and wants to come play football at Palestine-Wheatley, we're not going to turn him away," said Estes.

Estes was referring to Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow who was a home-schooled student in Florida but participated in athletics at a Florida high school before playing at the University of Florida and then the National Football League. The new state law, which was sponsored by Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle, has been referred to as the "Tim Tebow Law" according to a story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Forrest City High School basketball coach Dwight Lofton said he would also welcome an addition if a student was talented enough to make the team.

"If a young man meets all of the requirements of the law and has the talent and drive to play for us, of course we're going to welcome him," said Lofton.

An attempt was also made to contact FCHS football coach Rich Trail .

The law restricts home-schooled students from participating in interscholastic activities at a public school other than the student's resident school, which means a student living within the FCSD boundaries would be required to participate in FCSD activities. The law also requires the student to report to the resident school district within the first 11 days of the fall or spring semester of the resident school district. The student or their parent or guardian must advise the principal of that district in writing of the student's request to participate in the activity before the signup, tryout or participation deadlines for students enrolled in the school district.

There are also academic requirements that must be meet, according to the law. A minimum test score in the 30th percentile on the Stanford Achievement Test Series, 10th Edition or another nationally recognized norm-referenced test in the previous 12 months is required along with a minimum score on a test approved by the State Board of Education.

If a student is allowed to participate, they must also meet any tryout criteria set by the school district, adhere to the standards of behavior and codes of conduct, and meet any district academic criteria. They must also submit to any required drug testing, and all permission slips, waivers and physical exams, participation or activity fees must be paid.

The school district may also require home-schooled students who participate in the activities to attend one period of class per school day, and any student accepted under the law must be transported to and from games, contests and competitions along with other students. Any student who withdraws from an AAA member school to be home-schooled cannot participate in interscholastic activities for a minimum of 365 days after the student withdraws from the member school.

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