Governor Nikki Haley is expected to soon sign into law a bill that would open public school athletics to home school students.
Allowing home schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities has been debated in South Carolina for nearly two decades. But it was a 38-0 vote by the Senate on Thursday (a day after a 106-0 vote in the House) that finally opened the door.
A student could only participate in extracurricular activities for a school they are zoned to attend. That can include sports, band, drama, or other clubs.
“Because you choose a different academic path for your child, you should not be prevented from participating in the athletic side,” said Rep. Phil Owens (R-Easley), the House education committee chairman who helped guide the “Equal Access to Interscholastic Activities Act” to passage.
The biggest reason the bill gained traction was a well-connected lobbyist who made the issue a priority on his own time. Dwight Cauthen told WIS-TV his son is dyslexic and has to attend school at home. While the younger Cauthen (also named Dwight) faces a challenge in a traditional classroom, he has also developed a fantastic golf game, winning several PGA junior championships.
Cauthen wanted the opportunity to play golf at a nearby high school, but was not allowed. That’s when his father approached Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston). Campsen agreed to sponsor the “Equal Access” Act.
Campsen got into several public skirmishes over the issue with the South Carolina High School League, which oversees public school athletics in the state. League officials were wary of not being allowed to work on a bill that would directly affect them, said Rep. Mike Anthony (D-Union).
“It’s easy for us to vote and it’s over with us. We can go home and brag,” said Anthony, a former high school football coach, “But your coaches and your administrators are going to have to be the one to know how to handle where we put all this… And that’s kind of the fear they have about change.”
Anthony and a fellow football coach, Rep. Jackie Hayes (D-Dillon), eventually worked with the High School League to address their concerns. While the school officials still do not support the idea, they are no longer actively campaigning against it.
While no one voted against the bill, some legislators, such as Rep. Steve Parker (R-Spartanburg), made it clear they were uncomfortable with the idea. Parker expressed concerns that home school students would be able to win spots on a team ahead of those who actually attend the school.
“We cannot continue to give rights to one group of people at the cost of taking rights away from other people,” he said.
Other opponents, mostly education organizations, say students who make a conscious decision not to attend public schools should not then benefit from those schools’ programs.
Along with home schoolers, the legislation would also allow students currently enrolled in the state’s two Governor’s Schools to participate. Because students live on the campus of both the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville and the School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville, they could only participate at the schools in that area.