Home-Schooled Teen Prevented From Playing on Local Team

NJ Spotlight News | November 23, 2016 | Education, Politics, Sports
New Jersey is one of six states whose laws leave it up to the local district to determine who can play.

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Adam Cunard, age 14, has been playing football in a local youth league for a decade. Now that he’s a ninth grader, the league stops and he’d like to play for Seneca High School’s freshman team.

But Adam and his younger brother are home-schooled, and the Lenape Regional High School District won’t allow home-schoolers to participate in extracurricular activities.

Adam’s mother Marni says that’s not fair.

“It’s not just about football, and it’s not just about my sons. It’s about opening up all the opportunities that available in the local public school districts to all home-schoolers,” she said.

Twenty-four states have laws that allow home-schoolers to participate in outside activities like football. New Jersey is one of six states whose laws leave that up to the local district.

Adam addressed the Lenape school board last month and pleaded with board members to relax their policy and let him play.

The board declined.

“He is upset by it, for sure,” his mom said. “He would love to continue to play football. First of all because he’s got a passion for the sport, but secondly, what’s possibly even more important to him, is that he would be able to play football with the boys he’s grown up with since he was five. These are guys he’s grown up with in the community since they were 5 years old.”

Adam told the school board that night in October he felt like he was being ex-communicated from football. “I was good enough to play for our community team for ten years,” he said. “Why am I not good enough now?”

The Home School Legal Defense Association supports that view.

“The first argument that’s generally offered is that home-schooled families are paying for the team. The home-schooled family’s taxes are paying for upkeep of the practice grounds, upkeep of the stadium, they’re paying for the coaches’ salaries and for equipment. It just makes sense for home-school students to be able to access those services that they’re already paying for through their taxes,” said Senior Counsel for HSLDA Scott Woodruff.

Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber is aware of Adam’s story and has had a bill in for four years that would address it.

“I think this is an issue that calls for uniformity. You’ve got some schools playing with home-schoolers or independent school students and some schools who bar home-schoolers, and it doesn’t seem fair to the players on either side that some kids would be left out. Both out of fairness to the families who choose different routes to educate their kids and a sense of fairness to everybody a uniform policy seems to make sense,” said Webber.

The Lehape Regional School District is strict about its policy.

It says it’s “not authorized to review and approve the curriculum or program of students educated anywhere but at its schools” and that even enrolled students are not guaranteed a place on a team.

Marni Cunard, who says she and her husband home-school so their sons can get a strong Christian education, disagrees.

“Senior citizens contribute taxes to the schools. Families that don’t have children, they contribute taxes. And so do home schooling families. Because of that, we feel that we should be able to have access to the after school activities.”

The federal Department of Education says 3.4 percent of American students are home-schooled.