By Nate Smith Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — Noah Ackerman had a busy summer.
With 4-H projects and continued school work, he did a lot. He will even be representing the local 4-H at the Indiana State Fair in a couple weeks.
And he swam in the family’s small pool to keep in shape for football season. But this home-schooled student will not be able to play football with his friends this season for Washington Junior High School.
The decision made by Washington schools administrators and made public last week is an example of the issue for home school families and their interaction with public schools. In this case, it is extracurricular activities.
In June, Noah’s parents, Brant and Renee, asked the Washington School Board for a waiver to allow their son to play junior high football. In their presentation, they had support from the seventh grade football coach and even said the varsity football coach had given support.
They went to the board because earlier this year, the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Executive Committee voted to allow home school students to take part in IHSAA-sanctioned activities if certain criteria were met, including taking one class at the school and taking part in the ISTEP testing regiment. The school also has to allow the student to take part, even if the student is in junior high and not part of high school yet.
Days after making that request, Brant said, they were contacted by school administration and told their request was denied.
“(Assistant superintendent Paul White) explained at this time it wouldn’t be possible,” Brant said. “That their extracurricular activities are set aside for enrolled students.”
The Ackermans hoped and prayed the result would be in their son’s favor, but they had their doubts even before they made the presentation to the school board.
“We were praying God would open a door,” Renee said. “Otherwise, we knew it was going to be hard.”
“I’d say 50-50,” Brant said on their son’s chances.
“I don’t even know they were that high,” Renee said.
One of the problems that led to the denial was a transcript. Washington Superintendent Daniel Roach said this week there is no real guidance on the transcript, based on state regulations for home schools.
“Part of the issue is that resolution is quite vague,” Roach said.
There are other factors, Roach said, with the new regulation including test scores and liability. He also said there was another issue, one that has been in the heart of the debate nationally on whether home school students can have access to high school activities.
“Do you allow a student to represent a school that has attended a single class and possibly not a core class versus the student that has been enrolled full time?” Roach said.
The current policy will hold for students wanting to participate in other extracurricular activities like marching band or a club.
“They can enroll in a class, however enrolling in the class and participating in the ECA requirement are two separate things,” Roach said. “We have to be consistent in that policy.”
States started changing their policies when it comes to home school students when the state of Florida allowed NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, then a home school student, to play high school football. Since then, so-called Tebow laws have propped up, expanding the debate on whether high school activities should be allowed to home school students.
The Ackermans know their son is not the next Tim Tebow, but wanted their son to be able to play with his friends, as he has done since he was little. They also feel there are misunderstandings about home schooling and what home-schooled children know.
“I think there is a misconception where people believe they are not getting an education similar to public schools,” Renee, who has a teaching degree. “We do a curriculum. My girls are in high school and they will finish with a Core 40 plus (diploma).”
Also, the family takes standardized testing every year through the Stanford Achievement Test and also have transcripts through the home school association they belong to. They feel Noah, who has a form of dyslexia, does better in the home environment especially with his language arts.
“I taught for three years and he is in the middle in terms of special education,” Renee said. “He doesn’t need a lot of help. He needs a little help. I don’t want to see him fall through the cracks because of that.”
But, the family is willing to send their son to a class and feel it to be “an opportunity” for their son to be exposed to something he would not be able to receive at home. The Ackermans do not want to give up on the chance for their son to play football for Washington, either this season or in the future. They would also like to speak in front of the Washington School Board again.
“I’d like to have some time with the school board for questions and answers,” Brant said. “Someone asked us ‘If Noah wants to play football, why don’t you just enroll him in school?’ I’d like to talk about dyslexia and some of the one-on-one attention and what we are doing.”
When the Ackermans spoke in June, there was not one question or comment from a school board member. Also, while the outcome was not what the family wanted, they said everyone at the school treated them with respect and were kind.
“Dr. Roach and Paul White were very good guys,” Brant said. “They are just trying to figure out what they want to do as well.”
Since the decision came denying the waiver, many in the home school community have given support to the Ackermans and hope, like they do, a change in policy will come soon.
“Everyone was very supportive,” Renee said. “This may not open the door for Noah but this may open the door for someone else.”
Noah said he was disappointed not to be able to play with his friends but if the decision ever came to where he would play, he is ready.
“Yeah, I will be there,” Noah said.