The answer is a bit complicated, and can vary not just from state to state, but also between school districts.
Many people are familiar with the story of Tim Tebow, the homeschooled, Heisman-winning quarterback. Thanks to an “equal access” rule in his home state of Florida, Tebow was allowed to play on his local high school’s football team. (Jason Taylor, another former NFL player was also homeschooled, and was allowed to play high school football thanks to Pennsylvania’s equal access law.)
Inspired by his success, homeschoolers nationwide have advocated for what are often dubbed “Tim Tebow bills,” which grant equal access to public school activities for homeschooled students.
Which states let homeschoolers play public school sports?
While some states have struck down these Tebow bills, they have passed in a number of other states. According to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), 22 states currently give homeschoolers access to public school activities. Some of these include: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Some states force schools to give homeschoolers access, other states allow participation, but leave it up to districts whether they will grant it. Other states have no laws at all, and leave the issue of equal access entirely up to schools and districts, while some explicitly prohibit homeschool participation.
Of course, even if your state and district allow equal access, eligibility requirements can vary. Homeschooled students may need to submit test scores, grades, or progress reports in order to participate in public school activities, even if the state doesn’t normally require them. There may be other requirements as well, in compliance with the school district and the state athletic association.
Similarly, the rules for students enrolled in online charter schools or private schools can vary from state to state and from district to district. Students enrolled in charter schools or private schools are sometimes able to participate in activities at another public school, if their school does not offer the same opportunities. But just as with equal access for homeschooled students, the laws and requirements for charter school students can vary greatly.
If your state or district prohibits participation online or homeschool student participation, there are still other options. There are homeschool sports leagues available, both on a regional and national level, though some of these may not be open to students enrolled in a charter school. For student athletes who just want to play and don’t have their sights set on NFL glory, regional youth teams and YMCA leagues can be a good option too.
For students who want to participate in other activities, like drama, band, or orchestra, there are always regional programs and classes that are open to anyone, including homeschoolers. Classes and programs for kids and teens can often be found through your local parks & recreation department or community college non-credit course offerings.
If you would like more information on equal access to public school activities for homeschool and charter school students, you can find detailed summaries of nearly every state’s policies in this document compiled by the HSLDA.