Home-schooled and can’t play: NJ student fights district’s sports policy
SHAMONG — More than a dozen players from the local youth football program showed up at the Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education meeting Wednesday night to support a teammate's mission to suit up with the Seneca High School football team.
The Burlington County district prohibits home-schooled students from participating in athletic programs and extracurricular clubs.
Adam Cunard and his family, of Tabernacle, have been pushing the district to change their policy and fall in line with other districts throughout the county and state. The 15-year-old and his brother are educated at home by their mother, and as of next year, the quarterback-linebacker will be without a team. Due to his age and ineligibility at the high school level, he can play this season on the middle school team.
Cunard and his teammates left practice early to attend the board meeting in time for its public comment segment. Cunard, who's been playing football since the age of 5, said he's always been told he was "part of the Seneca family," but now he feels like he's being "excommunicated."
This was not his first time addressing the board on this issue. Noting he was told he didn't have enough "steam" behind his request months ago, Cunard asked his supporters in the crowd to stand. Most of the room was on its feet.
"I just believe that this kid tries so hard to be a football player," teammate Andrew Conway told New Jersey 101.5. "It's just very frustrating that he can't play."
The board's policy states that students "who are educated elsewhere than at school are not eligible to participate" in events such as field trips, extracurriculars such as band and athletic programs or activities.
"This policy is not intended to be, nor is it discriminatory in any fashion; in fact it 'levels the playing field' by ensuring that all participants in curricular, extracurricular and athletics programs meet the same rigorous requirements and preconditions for eligibility," the statement read.
Superintendent Dr. Carol Birnbohm summarized the statement following comments from Cunard and his mother, Marni. Birnbohm said home-schooled students follow individualized programs that are not under the supervision of the district and district personnel have no means to monitor certain eligibility factors such as a home-schooled student's consistency of class participation, projects, test taking and attendance.
Marni Cunard was pleased the district issued a response, but she said any concerns the district may have are unwarranted, as evidenced by other districts that allow home-schooled students to play sports, drama-free. And the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, she said, has a series of rules in place for districts to ensure a "level playing field" for in-school and out-of-school students.
The NJSIAA says home-schooled students can participate in athletics if the local Board of Education approves, and "Homeschooler Guidelines" have been satisfied.
"We feel that as taxpaying residents, we are stakeholders in the district, and even though we have chosen a different path for (my kids') education, that we should at least be able to have equal access to after-school activities," Marni Cunard said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.