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House votes for new high school sports rules

High school students from larger, private schools could participate in public school scholastic and athletic programs under a bill that sailed through a House panel today.

Currently, participation is limited to private school students who attend a non-Florida High School Athletic Association School that does not offer sports programs and has 125 students or fewer. The proposed changes would allow private schools with up to 250 students to participate in public programs.

HB 1403, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, allows, but does not require, charter schools, virtual schools, and home education cooperatives to become members of the FHSAA.

Roger Dearing, executive director of the FHSAA, opposed the bill because he said it would worsen recruiting problems and interfere with due process procedures that are already in place.

Under current rules, coaches who actively recruit high school students do face penalties. But the bill also restricts when and how investigators can determine who is breaking the rules, and outlines due process procedures for coaches and students.

Dearing said the contents of the bill show it was written by people who clearly don’t understand the high school sports world, and that the boards of nearly all of the 228 private schools at FHSAA voted against it.

Yet, most legislators spoke in favor of the bill.

They said the change would put power over high school sports back to where it belongs, the Florida Legislature.

The bill’s few problems are easily fixable, said Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando.

The proposal has one more stop before the House floor.