A new bill would allow non-public students from private, charter or homeschooling backgrounds to participate on public schools’ sports teams.

The bill’s introduction by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, was purposeful due to the statewide conversation on private and charter schools, Hariah Hutkowski, Thiesfeldt’s chief of staff, said.

“We thought it was an appropriate time to reveal the bill during a virtual school question and answer it in light of an individual who said she was on the school tennis team, and then attended a virtual charter school and is now unable to participate at the school tennis team,” Hutkowski said.

Hutkowski said students attending such schools are historically allowed to join the public school team in their district so long as they are enrolled, but joining a team would be completely optional.

Wade Labecki, deputy director for the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which oversees public sports statewide, said his organization gets inquiries about joining public school teams from home-schooled students every year.

However, Labecki added many home-school organizations do not want state involvement from organizations like the WIAA.

“In order to participate in athletics in a WIAA school, you have to be able to meet academic standards and make certain academic grades,” Labecki said. “The home-school organization doesn’t want oversight by a state organization or the WIAA telling them what to do.”

Larry Kaseman, executive director of the Wisconsin Parents Association, an organization for families who home-school their children, said home-schooled students who have competed against public schools team have been successful.

Kaseman said he has seen a basketball team composed of home-schooled students that went to a national competition as well as a track and field team of home-schooled students from Eau Claire competing alongside a team of WIAA students.

“Home-schoolers are resourceful and have found means for expressing themselves physically and finding sports opportunities various ways,” Kaseman said.

Kaseman added the bill is similar to one in 1999, which received much backlash from home-schooled students who did not want to conform to standards set by public schools or the WIAA.

Labecki said having sports programs in public schools gives opportunities and leads to benefits beyond the classroom, such as higher graduation rates, higher grades and lower disciplinary issues.

Kaseman said he was concerned about working with public schools if the bill passes.

“You don’t get privileges in conjunction with public schools without strings attached,” Kaseman said.