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Home-school students participate in extracurricular activities

Zachary Grosz, 16, is a home-school student about to start his fourth year on the Century High School swim team.

“I’ve always liked being in the water ... I just decided I wanted to try out and I’ve enjoyed it ever since,” he said.

Steve Madler, principal at Century High School, said that as long as students have identified as a home-school students and live in Century’s attendance area, they may participate in Century extracurriculars.

Madler said the approach is similar to the policy that if a private school doesn’t offer a particular activity, students who attend the private school are allowed to participate at a public school.

Grosz has been home-schooled his whole life. He has been on the Century High swim team for three years but this is his first year taking high school classes. Grosz takes robotics and physics classes.

Jim Haussler, activities director at Bismarck Public Schools, said home-schoolers participating in extracurriculars is “common practice.”

“We’ve had good athletes that are home-school kids,” he said. “And I think, philosophically, for me, we should be embracing all kids in our community as a public institution.”

Bismarck High principal Michael Cary said Bismarck had at least one home-schooled student taking classes at BHS.

“Essentially, we’re a public school,” he said. “If (people) are a resident of a district and choose to home-school their students, that’s a personal choice. They obviously still have free access to the public schools.”

Nancy Larson, coordinator of the Bismarck-Mandan Area Home Educators Support Group, said many home school students have participated in extracurriculars or sports over the years

There are between 90 and 95 families in the support group, which includes families from Bismarck, Mandan and the surrounding areas. Larson wouldn’t speculate on the number of students participating in extracurriculars at public or private schools.

However, although some students participate in sports, more students participate in music activities at the high school level, she said.

Larson’s children are home-schooled. During the fall, her son participated in middle school football and her daughter played middle school volleyball at Shiloh. Larson’s older son also participated in middle school football at Shiloh many years ago, she said.

“It was a way for them, obviously, to participate in a team, that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “We were very appreciative to Shiloh for opening their doors to us.”

Three other families in the support group had children participate in volleyball at Shiloh as well, she said.

Morgan Forness, superintendent at Shiloh, said home school students are welcome to participate in activities in Shiloh.

“(Home school students) have a right to participate, whether public or private,” he said. “If they choose Shiloh as a place they would like to participate, we would allow that.”

Only a handful of home-school students have participated in sports at Shiloh, he said. In the past, home school-students were only allowed to participate in specific sports or activities. That hasn’t been the case since Forness has been principal.

Tom Eberle, principal at St. Mary’s High School, said the school follows the rules laid out by the North Dakota Activities Association.

“Once they have declared where they want to go, they have to stay there or otherwise sit out 180 days,” Eberle said, noting the NDHSAA policy. “(Home school students) are subject to the same standard for participation as those full time students at school.”

For example, a student couldn’t say that they want to participate in soccer at St. Mary’s and also participate in basketball at Bismarck High or Century.

“We need to follow the rules, just like everybody with whatever the NSAA has set in place,” he said.

Students are allowed to transfer schools if it’s along a natural break, he said. For example, if a student participated in activities at a public school in middle school they could switch to St. Mary’s as a sophomore without being penalized because that would be when they were transitioning to the high school. However, if a student played for St. Mary’s as a freshman, they could not switch to the high schools without penalties.

Eberle said there are four home school students taking classes at St. Mary’s but none participating in athletics.

Gwyn Ridenhour is the mother of two home-schooled children that take music classes at public schools: Eva Ridenhour, 9, takes band at Will-Moore Elementary while Ian Ridenhour, 12, takes geometry at Wachter Middle School and wind ensemble and jazz at Bismarck High School. Ian also is on the Wachter Science Olympiad team.

This is the fourth-year Ridenhour has home-schooled her children. Although Ian stopped attending public school, he never stopped participating in band.

“He’s a music guy, he’s always been involved in music even from the beginning,” she said.

Ian has participated in two extracurriculars: jazz band and science olympiad.

“It’s been a fantastic experience. The kids are really happy being able to have these kinds of opportunities available to them,” she said.

The family, who previously lived 10 miles out of town, decided to move into Bismarck so their children could participate in more activities at the public schools.

“For us, it’s so worth it,” Ridenhour said.

Reach Mara Van Ells at 701-250-8251 or mara.vanells@bismarcktribune.com

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