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Senate approves homeschooling overhaul
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Senate approves homeschooling overhaul

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PIERRE | A bill that would change standards for South Dakota’s home-schooled students was approved Wednesday afternoon by the Senate.

SB177 changes the method of notification when parents want to homeschool their children, eliminates the need for taking standardized tests, allows participation in extracurricular activities and applies truancy standards.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford, defended letting homeschool students skip standardized tests in grades four, eight and 11. He said the parents of homeschoolers teach their children “how to learn, not how to take tests. We need to be working on how to help these people.”

SB177 provides a uniform code for allowing homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities. Currently each school district sets its own standards. Steinhauer said opening up participation would be a way to bring back to school those students who have fallen away during the pandemic.

“It’s a way to get these kids back,” Steinhauer said. “It’s a way to get these kids back involved in public education.”

Sen. Maggie Sutton, R-Sioux Falls, said 39 states don’t require standardized tests for homeschoolers and 25 states allow them to participate in extracurricular activities.

In South Dakota, “lots of districts already allow this,” Sutton said.

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Sen. Kyle Schoenfish, R-Scotland, said the bill was another example of the Legislature creating more rules for school districts.

“This completely takes local control away from the school board,” Schoenfish said.

Sen. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, said he was concerned about making sure that homeschooled students met the same academic criteria as public school students when it came to being eligible for extracurricular activities.

“How do we verify that they are academically eligible?” Johns asked.

Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said the discussion was focusing on activities rather than academics. He said students might see the bill as a way to put aside learning while still getting to play sports.

“I don’t have to go to school,” Heinert said, “but I can play basketball.”

Steinhauer said parents, rather than school districts, were the most important part of a student’s life.

“We need to let parents be parents,” Steinhauer said. “Put local control with them.”

The Senate approved SB177 on a vote of 21-14. It now goes to the House.

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