VITAL POLICY – Successful Legislation Creates New Opportunity for Homeschool Athletes in Tennessee, Bill Originated in Jefferson County

Back in 2013, the Tennessee General Assembly created legislation to provide opportunities for homeschool students to participate in public school sports. The intent was to provide all homeschool students with access to organized public-school sports that would not otherwise be available.

However, some public-school systems and their attorneys found a legal loophole to exclude some homeschoolers from sports programs, especially middle schoolers.

When the legislature drafted the 2013 homeschool sports legislation, it was assumed that most schools with organized interscholastic sports were members of Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) or the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association (TMSAA). Accordingly, language in the legislation required public schools that were members of those athletic associations to admit homeschoolers to their sports programs. If a public school system was not a member of a sports association, they were not required to admit homeschoolers. However, they could if they chose to.

This was known as the “sports association loophole.”

Last fall, it was brought to my attention that homeschool kids were not able to participate in certain sports in Jefferson County Schools, specifically football, even though they had been able to in the past. When we checked on it, we discovered that Jefferson County Schools had discovered a legal loophole to exclude middle school aged homeschoolers from certain sports.” – Shonda Griffin, Homeschool Parent, White Pine

Fast forward to fall 2023. Certain homeschool parents in Jefferson County reported that middle school aged homeschoolers were being excluded from certain sports programs, prompting legislators to act on behalf of those homeschool families. House Bill 1861 by Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and companion Senate Bill 1979 by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) eliminated the “sports association loophole” requiring all public schools in Tennessee to admit homeschool athletes to their interscholastic sports programs, regardless of their membership in TSSAA or TMSAA.

Background on this issue can be found at this link. VITAL POLICY – Faison and Niceley Propose Legislation to Expand Access to Public School Sports for Homeschool Students | The Jefferson County Post

Public Act 658 was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee on April 9, 2024.

David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman, 917 Society Volunteer, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a citizen lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.