A new law allowing home-schooled and some private-school students to join public school district teams dominated the Aug. 8 Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education meeting.
Gahanna Lincoln High School athletics director Justin Sanford told the board all public schools are enduring the change that was included in the state budget bill in late June.
Previously, a student had to take at least one class in the district to play on a school sports team. Under the new law, a home-schooled student must only live in the district to participate. Additionally, if the student lives in a public school district that doesn't offer a particular sport, the student could play in a different district.
Private-school students who don't have access to some sports, such as Gahanna Christian Academy, may play in the public district where they live.
"We've never accepted home-schoolers," Sanford said. "Our board policy states we won't accept home-schoolers in interscholastic activities. It will be amended."
At the high school, he said, no home-schooled students have expressed interest in a fall sport.
Sanford said the district had received a few inquires about the change soon after the bill was passed.
"We were under impression any bill has 90 days to go into effect, but the Ohio High School Athletic Association has waived that portion," he said. "They won't deny eligibility of home-schoolers if they request eligibility at the home district."
Sanford said some inquires have been made at the middle schools.
"We need to bring board policy up to par," he said. "Where do we fall as far as liability? They technically aren't enrolled in our schools but using our facilities. Is there anything we need to consider as far as liability?"
Sanford said any home-schooled student who plays sports at G-J would have to adhere to grade requirements of the OHSAA.
Board member Jill Schuler asked if the home-schooled students would be subject to tryouts and fees, as G-J students are.
Sanford said they would.
"We have an attendance requirement, too," board member Windy McKenna said.
"This was thrown into the lap of the OHSAA," Sanford said. "We're trying to get our hands around eligibility issues that may arise."
Schuler asked Sanford if he foresees any big impact with the change.
"Hypothetically, I can speak," he said. "All our athletic directors are facing this around Ohio. It does provide opportunity for a home-schooler to participate."
Under the new law, he said, students from Gahanna Christian Academy might want to join the Lions football program because they have no football team.
"I think there's something to be said for camaraderie with classmates," Sanford said. "The worst-case scenario, essentially, is that it could be taken advantage of. We don't want to incur costs for our coaches, uniforms, etc. If we have a huge influx from Gahanna Christian wanting to play football, it costs $1,000 to outfit a football player. I can see where it potentially could become an issue for public schools."
Board president Claire Yoder asked if the students have to be residents of the district to play sports at G-J.
If a student attends Gahanna Christian but is a resident from Westerville and wants to play football, Sanford said, the student would have to go back to Westerville to play football.
Board member Dewitt Harrell wanted to know if any tracking or reporting would be done regarding the change.
"There will be some sort of accounting procedure we have to send to the Ohio High School Athletic Association," he said.
Sanford said he anticipates returning to the board soon with an amendment to the board's policy and updates about the change.