Bill expanding Fla. private school sports options sent to Governor

Sen. Audrey Gibson

The Florida Senate unanimously passed SB 1302/ HB 1109 Thursday, allowing students at private schools to participate in sports at a public school of their choice based on their school district’s open enrollment policy.

The bill, which would expand extracurricular options for private school students, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

Existing laws allow students attending private middle or high schools that are not members of the Florida High School Athletics Association, and that have fewer than 125 students, to participate in interscholastic sports at their zoned public schools.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill would particularly help students with special needs have more opportunities to play sports because they would be able to try out at a school that may have a slot open.

“It has come to my attention that sometimes at certain schools that are within a district or within the neighborhood that a child can attend and they have a really strong team, it has become a little difficult for making the team during tryouts,” Gibson said on the Senate floor.

Gibson asked that the Senate substitute Rep. Bruce Antone’s bill, HB 1109, for her bill, as the two are nearly identical.

Antone previously added an amendment that specifies a private school student can participate in sports at a school if the capacity for that school has not be reached as determined by the district school board.

Florida already has a “Tim Tebow” law that allows homeschool students — as well as students enrolled in charters or other schools of choice — to sign up for teams at their zoned public school, or other public schools they would otherwise attend. The goal of the law is to give students in educational choice programs access to extracurriculars that might not otherwise be available.

This year’s legislation is the latest in a series of efforts to adapt high school athletics and extracurricular activities to the growth of school choice programs.

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