Public school classes available to private, homeschooled students

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Public-school classrooms aren't off limits to homeschooled, private and parochial school students in Missouri, but few take advantage of the opportunity, local school officials say.

Under state law, students may attend a private, parochial or homeschool part of the day and take classes in the public school district during the remainder of the school day.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokesman Jim Morris said his agency doesn't keep track of how many of these students are enrolled part time in public schools. Local school districts, he said, can set their own individual policies regarding such part-time enrollment.

While part-time students may attend public schools, they can't be on that public school's junior high or high school athletic or academic teams whose contests are regulated by the Missouri State High School Activities Association. The association allows only what amounts to full-time, enrolled students to participate on sports or academic teams such as speech and debate for that school.

The eligibility issue surfaced recently in Jackson. Two St. Paul Lutheran School sixth-graders participated with Jackson's eighth-grade wrestling team this fall in violation of the activities association rules.

Jackson school officials reported the violation to the association earlier this month after the district received a complaint from a Jackson resident.

"They practiced with us," said Jackson athletic director Kevin Bohnert, who acknowledged the error. "They were not on the eligibility roster. They were not counted on the team."

The two parochial school students also each wrestled twice in exhibition matches in two meets in late November and early December, Bohnert said. They wore Jackson uniforms. But no scores were kept in those matches, which didn't count in team competitions, he said.

The two students didn't keep any Jackson students from winning spots on the wrestling team, he said.

Jackson resident Carl Edwards, who describes himself as a lifelong fan of Jackson athletics, raised the issue in a letter to the Southeast Missourian. In the letter, he wrote that he had complained to Jackson superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson about the situation.

Bohnert said the two students in question previously participated in a youth league wrestling program that used Jackson school facilities.

Practice limitations

He said the students no longer will be allowed to practice with the Jackson team or wrestle in meets. Under activities rules, only students enrolled at a school can practice with that school's sports teams.

The statewide activities association governs sports competition among students in seventh grade through high school. Schools can set their own policies regarding competition involving students in sixth grade or lower, said Stacy Schroeder, assistant executive director for the activities association.

However, sixth-grade students can't compete against students in higher grades in athletic competition under association rules, she said. That apparently happened when St. Paul students competed in a meet in Cape Girardeau with an opposing wrestling team made up of seventh- and eighth-grade students.

The Cape Girardeau team isn't an official school team. It's operated by a wrestling booster club. The school district doesn't fund it other than to allow the team to wrestle in the junior high school gym, Cape Girardeau Central Junior High School athletic director Terry Kitchen said.

But Kitchen said the school does certify that the students are seventh and eighth grades at the junior high school and eligible to participate in the sport. Kitchen said sixth-grade students don't compete on the Cape Girardeau team.

Tim Mirly, principal at St. Paul Lutheran in Jackson, said the two students in question acted on their own. St. Paul school officials were never asked to approve the arrangement, he said.

As for academic classes, such students legally could attend public school, state education and local school officials say.

Jackson High School principal Rick McClard said in the past several years he's had two homeschooled students enroll at his school. Both enrolled so they could take classes at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. The center serves students from a number of school districts, including Jackson.

The two students never took a single class on the Jackson High School campus, McClard said. But by enrolling at Jackson, the two students were able to take classes at the vocational school with the school district paying the cost, he said. Whether homeschooled or private-school students, they can only attend public school part time if they live in the school district, McClard said.

St. Paul Lutheran School in Jackson sends some of its students to the Jackson Junior High School for a band class that isn't offered at the parochial school, he said.

But DESE's Morris said state law doesn't require such an arrangement. That is up to the local school district, he said.

Mike Cowan, principal at Central High School, said he doesn't have any parochial or home-schooled students taking classes at the high school. It's not been an issue at his school, he said.

Morris said state law allows part-time enrollment subject to local school district policies. But school districts don't have to have an "open campus," Morris said. School districts could adopt regulations that actually inhibit such enrollment, he said. "It's a matter of district policy."

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