The Beaufort County School District won't charge home- and charter-school students to play sports with students at its conventional schools, and applications are trickling in after new state laws required districts to accommodate them.
Two students have applied, and the district has received calls from parents of about 10 others asking for more information about sports and other extracurricular activities, according to Gregory McCord, the district's student services chief. Last week, the district created its application form, settled on its policy and posted them online.
Two state laws, signed this year, make home-school and charter-school students eligible to participate in district schools' sports and a few other activities.
Students who have been home-schooled for at least one year can participate in any activity in which two district schools already compete -- for instance, sports, an academic quiz team, some clubs and some band activities, McCord said.
By state law, students would only be eligible for sports at the school for which they ordinarily would be zoned. If a charter school offers a sport or activity, its students are not eligible to participate with another public school.
Donna Cartwright, director of the Lowcountry Homeschoolers Association, said that about 200 members of her group are looking forward to the change. Home-schooled children sometimes do not get the physical activity they need, she said.
"You have to sign up for ballet or yoga classes or all the other stuff," Cartwright said. "It's costly sometimes."
Valerie Hyer, a Bluffton mom who is home-schooling her eighth-grade daughter, agreed. Lindsay wants to play volleyball, Hyer said, and the family plans to apply for her to play at H.E. McCracken Middle School.
"She's got piano, she's got this and that to cover music and the arts, but really athletics is what home-schooling, in my opinion, lacks," Hyer said.
Charter-school students can participate in any extracurricular activities, which in addition to the activities offered to home-school students, include spirit cheer and any district-run after-school programs.
Riverview Charter School Director Alison Thomas said three parents have contacted her this week about their applications to participate in district sports, such as swimming and volleyball.
"It's a great opportunity for charter-school students to participate in things smaller schools are not able to offer," Thomas said.
She also said the new laws might change Riverview's plans to add extracurriculars and sports if families indicate in annual surveys that other schools are meeting demand for those activities.
Bridges Preparatory School, which will open in fall 2013, might also change its plans, charter committee chairwoman Ivie Szalai said.
The school, which has been approved to open as a member of the S.C. Public Charter School District, will start with students in kindergarten through sixth-grade. Its plans call for gradual expansion, until the school serves students through 12th grade.
Szalai said the change could prompt more families to consider Bridges, since participating in sports would still be possible.
So far, most of the inquiries the district has received are from those interested in sports, McCord said.
To participate, students must apply at least 10 days before the requested sport or club begins and submit paperwork proving they live in the school district, among other things. The students will still have to try out for teams, and are subject to cuts.
At one time, the district thought it might have to charge a modest fee -- about $30 -- to cover its insurance costs, but that turned out to be unnecessary, McCord said.
District administrators will review the applications and, if accepted, notify the family and the school where the student would participate. Denied applications cannot be appealed.
Home-school and charter-school students must meet all eligibility requirements, including the district's requirement that athletes maintain a 2.0 grade point average. That policy takes effect in January.
Students also could be subject to the same tutoring required of district students if their grades slip, McCord said.
McCord said the district would re-evaluate the policy after it has been in place a year.