The board vote on Monday, December 13, was 4-3, with the three newest members expressing more support for welcoming home schoolers and voting against the motion.
Assistant superintendent Gordon Butler presented four options to the board: 1) full implementation next academic year; 2) open some extracurriculars in spring 2022; 3) open middle school participation in 2022-23 as a pilot program; 4) do not participate.
In the regular legislative session, House Bill 547 passed with sponsors and votes from members of both parties. It allows home school students to participate in UIL activities, but the school district must first opt-in.
So far, 21 school districts across the state have opted in. They include small districts like Fate and Meridian to large districts like Weatherford and Abilene. However, Carroll ISD, which promotes itself as a leading school district that “fosters excellence,” will not join this group.
Southlake resident Elizabeth Huffman educates her three children at home and spoke at the meeting in favor of allowing home school participation. She was frustrated by the outcome.
“It is an uphill battle we have to fight. I thought through COVID maybe we had overcome some of these stereotypes, but apparently not. Carroll chose not to be forward thinking and set the standard of excellence,” Huffman told The Texan.
“The objections [at the meeting] seemed to be about academic rigor not the legislative right to participate,” she said. “Personally, I have three students who can read and write Latin, and my freshman has a 94 average in her dual credit Spanish class at Dallas Baptist University.”
According to the bill’s provisions, before being allowed to participate in UIL events, a home school student would have to score at or above grade level on a nationally-normed achievement test every two years, Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) president Tim Lambert said in an interview with The Texan.
In order for a public school student to participate in UIL events, he or she must show advancement one of two ways, either through successful completion of course work or by passing the Texas STAAR tests.
Carroll ISD school board member Todd Carlton stated that “the ongoing academic rigors [of Carroll] are as high as any in the nation.”
“It is difficult to tell the rigor of home schools,” he said, adding that Carroll students earn the privilege of UIL participation by “enduring the academic rigors.”
“What about C-students who barely passed but can throw the ball?” Huffman mused about the implication by Carlton that all Carroll students are thriving academically.
CISD board member Hannah Smith also pushed back, asking Carlton what the consequences of his concerns were. “So what? You believe it is unfair? The legislature already balanced those concerns,” she said.
Nationally, home-schooled students score 15 to 30 percentile points above the average public school student, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.
Colleges, like Amherst, often welcome home-schooled students as “innovative thinkers with a lot to bring to the table,” NBC News reported.
Mary Ochranek has lived in Southlake for 21 years. Her 19-year-old daughter, who was homeschooled, now attends TCU with a full tuition scholarship.
“She entered TCU with 42 credits and now has two majors, music and psychology. And through her experiences she has found many students at college who aren’t ready to be there,” she told The Texan.
School districts were not given much guidance by UIL about what to require of home school students so they must develop their own policies, Butler said during his presentation to the school board.
He said that the “no pass, no play” requirement would apply to home school students as it does to public school students, adding that the home school families he met with were very collegial and willing to adjust to meet the standard. However, the coaches were more reticent, especially about missteps on required paperwork.
Huffman said they are willing to submit to an academic evaluation by a private tutor or show their syllabus and quarterly reports for the work completed in their home education setting.
Another concern raised by Carroll ISD school board member Michelle Moore was that allowing even a pilot program for UIL involvement would “open the door” and “could have unintended consequences.”
Board president Eric Lannen raised similar concerns about large numbers in the future and possible funding issues.
Recently elected board member Andrew Yeager pointed out that home school families already pay property taxes in Carroll ISD. “It’s not like they receive a rebate for homeschooling,” he said.
So far, 33 states have adopted similar measures about home school participation in UIL, Lambert said, and none have reported these problems. “This fear is just not founded on a basis in fact,” he added.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about three percent of families home schooled their children before COVID-19, but that has grown to over 12 percent now.
Huffman, who was part of focus groups about home school participation in Carroll ISD, said six families attended the meetings she participated in and that would represent 23 children. She speculated that not every student will choose the same activity to participate in so it may add one student per UIL event.
Huffman said her son would like to try out for baseball and her youngest daughter enjoys softball. But other families might choose fine arts or debate.
Her children have played Dragon sports as children and would like to continue as they grow older. “We cheer for the Dragons, support the Carroll Education Foundation, and of course pay our tax dollars, which we are happy to do. But I don’t feel like they are supporting us.”
“If you look at the history of the UIL, it was started in 1913 as a debating society and was open to all white students in Texas to give them an opportunity to become better citizens,” Lambert explained. It wasn’t integrated until the late 1960s.
Lambert believes the UIL should return to its purpose of being a program for all Texas students to help make them well-rounded citizens.
“Most of the comments [at the board meeting] had nothing to do with UIL or its purpose. I heard so much ignorance and little desire to learn more about home schooling,” Ochranek said. “I really wish the discussion had been about implementation and inclusion.”