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Letter to BCHE Families concerning homeschooler sports

BCHE Families,

I wanted to pass along some information concerning homeschool students playing public school sports and let you know of our family’s experience this year. First of all, I want to make it clear that our experience was not perfect, but we have NOTHING negative to say about our dealings with the Bradley County School System. There were hiccups along the way, but I just chalk it up to a learning curve on both ends. I will explain the details with the understanding that nothing that I say is meant to cast the school system in a negative light.

I am one of those parents who never thought that we would come close to registering with the school system under ANY circumstances. I just didn’t like the idea that someone “could” possibly tell me what to do or regulate how I educated our children. But several things have happened in recent years . . . First, I have grown stronger in my faith, and the Word of God says that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7), and I have to remember that He loves my children even more than I do. Second, we believe that God has given Riley a desire and talent in the area of baseball, therefore, God will protect him and us as he pursues that calling. For our family the baseball diamond has been a place of ministry, but that is another whole side issue.

I will try to be brief as I recall the highlights of our year with the public school system with the hopes that you will be better informed and know that you are not alone if you choose the same path.

  • Fill out and return the appropriate paperwork by the specified date (from what I can remember, the date was August 1st last year). Turn it in in July – don’t wait until the last minute!

  • The only paperwork that you are required to turn in at the end of the year is an attendance sheet. No one ever asked what curriculum I was using, nor did I have to turn in any grades or “proof” of any kind.

  • Mr. Gary Austin is the homeschool liaison for Bradley County. Although he didn’t always have the answers that I needed, he was ALWAYS willing to find out or put me in touch with someone else that could help.

  • We chose to go to Bradley Central High School for personal reasons even though we are zoned for Walker Valley. We did have to get this approved; however, it was an easy process as Bradley County is an “open” system. This means that as long as you are not riding a bus, you may go to either county school. I am not sure how this works for the city system as we did not even look into that option.

  • You will need a sports physical and immunization record turned in as well.

  • We did have to turn in a list of the subjects that Riley was taking, but they did not ask any questions or make any comments on this. I am wondering if we had to do this because Riley was in 9th grade, which is one of the specified years for testing according to the homeschool law for Tennessee.

  • We contacted the baseball coach in April of Riley’s 8th grade year to let him know of our intentions and desire to try out for the 9th grade baseball team. We eventually heard back from the coach (on the actual day of tryouts) in late May of 2016 and went through the whole process with the other 9th grade boys. We found out at the end of tryouts that Riley did make the team. We play on a travel select team during the summer, so Riley was not able to play with his new teammates over the summer months.

  • Once school started back in the fall, Riley had to be at the school every day for weightlifting and conditioning, which usually lasted about two hours (3 to 5?).

  • At some point (my mind is a blur now), the schedule changed to practices starting during the students’ last period of the day. Therefore, we had to be there at 1:30, and practices could last anywhere from 5:00 until 6:00. From what I have learned about coaches everywhere over the past few years, they aren’t the greatest about communicating. So, it was always a guess when Riley would be done with practice. Next year he will have to have a phone!

  • Here is the piece of information that everyone is probably not looking forward to: YES, WE HAD TO TEST AT THE SCHOOL. The process did not start out as smoothly as I had hoped, but everything turned out all right in the end. From the beginning, I knew that the homeschool law said that Riley had to be tested with the other students since he was in 9th grade.

    • The law states: (5) (A) Administration by the commissioner of education, or the commissioner's designee, or by a professional testing service that is approved by the LEA, to home school students of the same state board approved secure standardized tests required of public school students in grades five (5), seven (7) and nine (9); (ii) Tests administered by a professional testing service shall be administered within thirty (30) days of the date of the statewide test. Tests administered by a professional testing service shall be administered at the expense of the parent-teacher; (iii) All test results from either administration by the commissioner or the commissioner's designee, or by a professional testing service, shall be provided to the parent-teacher, the director of schools and the state board of education; So the test would need to be standardized, administered by a professional testing service within 30 days of the statewide assessments, and the results provided to the LEA for review. - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/education/topic/home-schooling-in-tn#sthash.J7gMZUeJ.dpuf

  • In the fall, I contacted Mr. Austin with the above information explaining that BCHE offers a group testing service that is a standardized test and evaluated by an outside source. I have been an approved BJU tester for years and test my own children at home each spring with the Iowa test; however, I knew they would want the testing to occur under a group setting. Mr. Austin took my information and forwarded it to the school’s testing administrator. She said that the testing was not approved, and that Riley would need to do the EOC (End of Course) tests with the other Bradley students in the subjects of Algebra I and English. They did end up ordering a special Algebra I test for Riley since the school system uses a slightly different version due to Common Core. Knowing that Riley would need to test with the other students, I waited to hear back from the testing administrator as to the dates that Riley would need to be at the school. I contacted Mr. Austin several times to get the dates and each time, he said that he had not heard anything yet. My point in saying this is to let others know that you need to gently be proactive. Do not wait to hear something from them. Keep the lines of communication open and let them know you do not want to miss an important deadline. By doing this, I believe, we were able to show due diligence on our end.

  • Unfortunately, even with me trying to regularly stay in touch, we received a voice mail one afternoon saying that Riley would need to report to the school the next day for his English test. This came as a complete shock, as I didn’t even get home that evening until 7:00 and was unable to call the school back and get clarification. Fortunately, I had Mr. Austin’s phone number and left a message for him to call me back as soon as possible. He ended up calling me back around 9:00 that night (see, they really do want to work with us) and apologized for the total lack of communication from the testing department. He was upset with the way that they whole thing had been handled and apologized profusely. We probably could have raised a “stink” at this point for the late notice and such, but we decided as a family that we were under a microscope as a homeschool family and wanted to handle each and every detail with Godly character so that we could “stand above reproach.” To back out or refuse to test at this point would have cast an ugly shadow on the homeschooling community and our family as well. Riley was definitely nervous that night, but we prayed and explained that he was a good student whom God had prepared for just a time as this. We all went to bed that night confident that God was in the middle of the whole thing, and we had no reason to be nervous or afraid.

  • The next morning we were at the school by 7:45am waiting for the teacher who had left the message on our voice mail. He took Riley to his assigned class, and I picked him up two hours later. By the end of the whole testing sequence, Riley had to be at the school for four days of English testing (which included at least one day of timed essay writing) and three days of Algebra I testing. He said it wasn’t that bad overall (he is a man of few words). The testing days were spread out over 2 ½ weeks, and I never received another call from the testing coordinator. He just communicated with Riley while he was at the school. They provided the pen, paper, and calculator for the math portion, although Riley ended up taking his own calculator since he was more familiar with it. I have been told that they will send Riley’s test results directly to me at some point. I don’t even think his scores affect anything since he is not an “actual” student.

 

So, in the end, everything did not run as smoothly as one would think. We received late notice for the day of tryouts and late notice for the upcoming testing. However, overall it has been an EXTREMELY POSITIVE experience. After this year, my advice to others would be the following:

  • Turn in all paperwork several weeks in advance.

  • Know what you need to have and stay organized – don’t expect them to stay organized for you.

  • Communicate clearly and often. Show grace to others in the school system – this is new for them too.

  • Stay flexible and don’t have high expectations. You might get a last minute call like we did, but everything will be all right in the end.

  • High school athletic coaches want to win games/matches. They are probably willing to go out on a limb if your son or daughter is going to help the team win overall. Don’t blame it on the school if the child gets cut from the team. Just because you are a homeschooled student doesn’t automatically guarantee your spot on the team. We (Scott and Sara) had to be intentional about helping with fundraising and getting Riley to all “optional” practices and/or sporting events.

  • Express your gratitude along the way (and make sure you are grateful for the opportunities that God has given to you).

  • Remember that this is not just about you (or me). We are representatives of the homeschooling community at large, so please behave! Your understanding demeanor today could open the doors for the homeschool students of tomorrow.

  • It is ok to be firm, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

 

Sorry for the long details of our encounter with the public school system this year. I just thought that our experience might be helpful to someone else out there. I know that I have always been thankful for those of you who have come before me, so this was my turn to pass on some knowledge and insight.

 

Feel free to email me with any other specific questions!

 

Sara Black

Ssblack21@aol.com