Montclair is debating whether to allow homeschooled children living in the district to play sports on a school-backed team.

Currently, Montclair’s athletics participation policy does not allow homeschooled students to play sports in the public schools.

Board member Priscilla Church told the board of education at its Nov. 19 meeting that the policy committee has been discussing whether to amend the policy. She also noted that the committee is split on the issue.

Superintendent Kendra Johnson said that Montclair has 19 students who are homeschooled.

The district works with the township to keep track of how many school-aged children live in Montclair. If a child will not be attending the public schools, the child's family has to send a letter to the district documenting where their child will be attending school. This includes providing documentation of a homeschooling program, where applicable.

In New Jersey, it is estimated that about 60,000 students statewide are homeschooled.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 3.3 percent of school-age children in the United States were homeschooled in 2016.

Board member Eve Robinson favored allowing homeschooled children to join school teams, citing socialization opportunities. But board member Jessica de Koninck said she had reservations about the idea. She mentioned reports about a North Carolina private school where a substantial number of students had contracted chicken pox due to not having been vaccinated.

“I don’t want to be putting students at risk,” de Koninck said.

Board member Latifah Jannah suggested that many parents who have their children homeschooled likely do not want them in a public school environment for various reasons.

In New Jersey, allowing a homeschooled student to play sports on a public school’s team is left to the discretion of local boards of education.

“The local Board of Education is not required by law to allow a child educated elsewhere than at school to participate in the regular school curriculum or in extracurricular or sports activities. Such participation is at the sole discretion of the board once the child is identified as educated elsewhere than at school as identified [in certain nonpublic school environments],” according to the Department of Education.

Among Montclair’s neighboring districts, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield do not allow homeschooled children to participate in district-sponsored sports, while Verona and Cedar Grove do. Participation is allowed only if students abide by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s guidelines and their local BOE’s policies.

The NJSIAA amended its bylaws in 2011 to reflect the state’s guidelines on homeschool participation.

A homeschooled student may participate in sports in their local public school, as long as they have the local BOE’s approval, and have met other requirements, including academic eligibility, medical examinations and insurance requirements. “The homeschooled student must adhere to the same standards of behavior, responsibilities and performance as other members of the team,” the NJSIAA states.

Under NJSIAA bylaws, parents of a homeschooled student must meet with local school officials to demonstrate that the student is receiving an academically equivalent education. This includes presenting evidence to the principal that the student is meeting state and local academic standards.