Posted: 6:30 am Friday, March 28th, 2014
By Jason Schultz
The full Florida House of Representatives late Thursday passed a bill that would massively expand extracurricular eligibility in Florida schools and essentially allow traditional school, charter school, home schooled and online virtual school students to play sports or be in the band at whatever schools they want in some instances.
The bill, which has received little public or media attention this session, would allow home schooled and virtual school students to participate in activities at any public school they wanted in the county, any private school that agreed to let them participate.
The bill would cover all sports governed by the Florida High School Athletic Association like high school football, all intramural sports, fine arts performances like marching bands, and all clubs like drama or debate club.
It would also allow any of the roughly 20,000 students expected to attend charter schools in Palm Beach County to play sports or participate in activities at any school they want in the county or any private school unless the charter school they attend offers that same activity.
Currently charter school and home schooled students were only allowed to participate in the school that would normally have been their zoned neighborhood school based on their address under district policy.
Diaz’s bill also allows students attending regular district-run schools to play sports or participate in activities at any school they want in the county or at certain other schools in another district if the school they attend does not offer that activity.
Furthermore, the bill requires the FHSAA to craft a program where private school students can participate in sports at any public middle or high schools in the county if the private school doesn’t offer that activity.
Diaz, the sponsor of the bill, is also sponsoring a controversial charter school bill that would allow charters to set up operations if district-owned buildings if they pay rent and would create a uniform contract that charters statewide could use to gain approval. The Palm Beach County School District has opposed that bill, which is currently in the House Education Committee.
The Palm Beach County School Board has struggled with the issue of extracurricular activity eligibility for the last several years. In 2012 a group of parents from the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts and Inlet Grove High School protested when their children were kicked off the marching band at Suncoast High School because district policy did not allow them to participate in activities at schools they did not attend.
The district quickly eventually reinstated the band members but a few months later another group of parents from Dreyfoos and other district-run schools protested when their children were told they couldn’t be on the Santaluces High School winter guard and winter percussion anymore. The district eventually backed off that as well.
Earlier this year several Dreyfoos mothers also complained that their daughters couldn’t play softball because Dreyfoos didn’t have a softball team and said they should be allowed to play at other schools.
The school board last August debated allowing some students at magnet schools like Dreyfoos to participate in activities at other schools if their magnet school didn’t provide that activity. District officials and principals voiced opposition to that idea though, saying it would be unmanageable.
The school board has never proposed allowing students to play sports at any school they wanted or let private school play sports in district-run public schools and current FHSAA bylaws prohibit students from playing sports at schools they do not actually attend.
Chairman Chuck Shaw said several times during the debate over extracurricular eligibility rules last year that he worried opening it up for students to play sports or be in the band at any school they wanted countywide would lead to schools “recruiting” the best athletes and musicians to come to their school.
Parents would be responsible for providing transportation to activities for these students from outside the school, not the school district. If the bill were to be passed by both bodies of the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott it would take effect July 1.
About the Author
Occupation: Reporter My sports/favorite activities: Sprint triathlons (swimming, biking, running), kayaking, weight training, Bikram yoga, racquetball. Goal: Eventually I’d like to get a time under one hour on sprint triathlons, but I have a ways to go to get there. Also I am trying to build up endurance to compete in the Olympic distance Luray Triathlon in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in August of 2010. (I grew up in Luray, Va.) When I'm not training: My free time lately has been spent slowly fixing up my apartment, kayaking, playing poker and traveling. I also enjoy scuba diving, sky diving, hiking and whitewater rafting. I used to surf in California and eventually want to start learning again in Florida. I'm 33, single with no children and live in Palm Springs. Biggest challenge: My biggest challenges are working at night, and the heat during the summer. I don’t get home until after midnight, which makes it hard to get out of bed and train at 6 a.m. the next morning. By 9 a.m., however, it is already so hot and humid that most outdoor training feels like I’m dying and the ocean is already getting choppy and hard to swim in, if there is any wind. What's worked for me: I did the FAU triathlon in April with a time of 1:14:31, which is not bad for a first timer but shows I still have a long way to go. I have also kayaked most of the Intracoastal in Martin and Palm Beach counties and found Martin is much nicer. Favorite reward: My favorite reward on the weekends is playing poker and drinking good beer after a long day of training. Favorite online fitness resources: I don’t really read many blogs except the Survivorman video blog. Some other good web sites are www.beginnertriathlete.com, www.hobesoundsurf.com, www.kayakjeff.com, www.bikramwpb.com (Bikram Yoga), www.multirace.com and www.skydivefl.com.