A new state law will broaden opportunities for students in alternative schools, including home schools, to participate in public school sports and force the Anchorage School District to change the policy that kept the Chugiak football team out of last year's playoffs.
Senate Bill 119, passed overwhelmingly in the final days of the legislative session, says students in alternative education programs can participate in interscholastic activities at public schools -- and opens the door for those students to choose what school they wish to play for.
The law goes into effect for the 2013-14 school year, giving school districts a year to get ready for the change.
"We will need to revise some of our policies," said Derek Hagler, supervisor of high school education for the Anchorage School District.
The law covers full-time students in accredited home schools, charter schools, correspondence schools and other alternative programs located entirely in Alaska, including the Alaska Military Youth Academy.
It pretty much allows students to play for their school of choice. They can participate for the school that, based on the residency of their parent or legal guardian, they would attend if they weren't in an alternative program. Or they can request to play at another school, which they will be permitted to do if they show "good cause" and if that school's district approves the choice.
"It's going to be complicated," said ASAA executive director Gary Matthews. "We have a lot of homework to do to make it fair.
"First of all, will it change the level of the playing field? There's really not going to be any way to guarantee kids in home schools have the same academic standards as kids in regular schools. There's no way to check that."
Anchorage School District students must maintain certain grade-point averages to be eligible for interscholastic sports and other activities, but home-schooled kids don't necessarily have GPAs, Matthews said.
Once students from alternative programs select a school to play for, they will be governed by the same ASAA transfer rules that apply to everyone else. If they want to switch teams, they will have to sit out for a year, Matthews said.
The new law was enacted after Chugiak High forfeited three football victories for the use of a player who lived in Chugiak but was enrolled in a statewide correspondence program run by the Galena school district. Anchorage School District policies say that a student must be enrolled in the Anchorage district in order to participate in activities at an Anchorage public school.
Chugiak missed the playoffs because of the forfeits.
Hagler said the Anchorage School District is still figuring out how to implement the new law, but he said it's likely students from alternative schools will have to pay the district's participation fee just as traditional students do.
Just how many students will be affected by the law is uncertain, because Alaska doesn't required families that home-school to register with the state.
"I've heard there are 5,000 (home-schooled students)," Matthews said, "but I think it's closer to 10,000, and how many are in high school? We don't have a handle on that."
But Hagler doesn't expect sports teams to be swarmed by students from alternative programs.
"Is this only one or two per school? That's where I think we are," he said. "My crystal ball says this will affect us in a small way."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.