Tabernacle’s Adam Cunard, 14, said he was told that his request to play on the Seneca High School’s football team as a homeschool student lacked “steam.” However, when Adam asked those who attended the Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education meeting last Wednesday who supported him to stand, more than 20 fellow football players and supportive community members stood.
In the spring of last year, Adam and his family requested the district to allow him to try out for the Seneca High School football team, despite a policy that makes him ineligible since he does not attend the district school. Adam and his family have reached out to the district for the past few months in an effort to get the policy changed not only for himself, but other homeschooled children, and when they heard nothing, turned to friends, the community and the media to get the word out and come to the LRHSD BOE meeting.
“My tax bill says I pay $2,092 in school taxes… Since our money funds your schools, my son and other homeschoolers really should have equal access to athletics and activities because they are students too,” Marni Cunard, Adam’s mother, said. “(LRHSD says) to be an upstander. Well I am being an upstander for my son and other children who are home schooled, pay their taxes and would benefit for having the same opportunities for personal growth, social interaction, competition scholarships and life influencing experiences as they would at public schools.”
Despite their request and strong showing at the meeting, the district stood strong behind its policy, saying the policy is not meant to be discriminatory, but ensures equality for its students.
“This policy is not intended to be, nor is it discriminatory in any fashion; in fact it “levels the playing field” by ensuring that all participants in curricular, extracurricular and athletics programs meet the same rigorous requirements and preconditions for participation in our programs,” Superintendent Carol Birnbohm said.
LRHSD Board Policy №2630 states, “Students who are educated elsewhere than at school are not eligible to participate in LRHSD curricular (e.g. field trips), extra-curricular (e.g. clubs, band) or athletic programs or activities.”
As per Birnbohm’s statement, students who participate in extracurricular activities are held to certain requirements for participation. These eligibility requirements include such conditions as achievement of certain grades, number of credits earned, attendance at school, behavior compliance, as well as following all LRHSD rules and regulations, allow a student to be considered for eligibility in extra-curricular activities. If a student is “lacking” in any of these criteria, they are precluded from participating in these activities and sports.
In a release by the LRHSD, the programs homeschooled students follow are individualized programs and are not under the LRHSD BOE’s purview or supervision, nor should they be. Therefore, LRHSD personnel have no means of monitoring eligibility preconditions and requirements, or to confirm that all the strictures mandated of LRHSD enrolled students, are met by homeschooled students. The LRHSD policy helps ensure that the privilege of participating in its extra-curricular activities and athletics is consistent, fair and open to students who meet the district’s eligibility requirements and preconditions.
Marni said in 27 states in the United States homeschoolers have the statutory right to participate in their local district’s athletics and in 10 other states homeschoolers may participate, dependent on certain criteria. She also listed six other high school districts in Burlington County who allow homeschooled children to participate in extracurricular activities. The New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association has guidelines on its website for homeschool children, including “compliance with the same standards of behavior and performance as all other team members.” However, the guidelines also state board approval is needed.
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, the local board of education is not required by law to allow a child educated elsewhere than at school to participate in the regular school curriculum or in extracurricular or sports activities. Such participation is at the sole discretion of the board once the child is identified as educated elsewhere than at school.
Adam, who has been playing football since he was 5 in Tabernacle, said he would just like to continue to play football with his friends. Adam, currently considered a freshman, is young enough to still play with his Seneca Youth Junior High League, but next year will not have the opportunity to do so.
The Cunard family asked the board to have a full board discussion of the matter and to have a vote on it. The board continued the meeting as usual after Birnbohm’s comments.