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Homeschooled student wins right to march in Morristown

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MORRISTOWN - When Nathan Barker and his wife Chrysann made the decision to begin home schooling their children at the start of the second semester, they never envisioned they could possibly be taking away their daughter’s chance to do something she loved - march in the Green Rockets Marching Band.

“In January we asked and were told that there would be no problem with her participating in marching band,” Mr. Barker said referring to his daughter, Meaghan, who just completed the seventh-grade, plays the flute and has been in the marching band since the end of her fourth-grade year.

Mr. Barker said the family went all winter under the assumption that once spring came around and marching band practice began his daughter would be welcome at the school.

The fact this was not the case, he said, wasn’t brought to his family’s attention until the day before the first rehearsal.

“He (Superintendent David J. Glover) waited until the day before marching band started to tell her the policy and told her to tell us,” Mr. Barker said referring to Director Jill Roberts.

“It was brutal,” he said. “Meaghan cried for three days.”

However following a ruling by the board of education Monday night, Meaghan can continue to march with the band. Mr. Barker said the road to win that right for his daughter wasn’t easy and included attending several board of education meetings.

Mr. Glover said a decision was made at the June 12 board meeting to allow Meaghan to being rehearsing with the band while the board contemplated what to do with the policy.

After approving a first reading of the new policy Monday night, the board gave Meaghan permission to continue as a member of the band. The policy is expected to be finalized at the board’s next meeting.

Mrs. Roberts said she was happy to have Meaghan back on board.

“She’s definitely been a part of the band,” she said. “We’re glad she can march with us this summer.”

Both Mrs. Roberts and Mr. Barker mentioned the support Meaghan received from other band members during the ordeal, noting that not only did band members attend board meetings, but some of them also lobbied the board to change their policy, which prevented home schooled students from participating in the district’s extracurricular activities.

“They were very professional about it,” Mrs. Roberts said. “They went and spoke and then they came back to practice.”

Mr. Barker said the support they received from Meaghan’s bandmates was overwhelming.

“Almost the entire band showed up at the meeting to offer their support,” he said, referring to the attendance at Monday night’s meeting.

“I didn’t even see everybody, because there were a lot of people in the hall who couldn’t in.”

Among those who supported Meaghan’s cause was Drum Majorette Samantha Hall, who along with fellow bandmate Kurstyn Macaulay, participate in sports mergers at Ogdensburg Free Academy.

“I stood up and said it wouldn’t be any different,” Samantha said, referring to the decision made by the Ogdensburg School Board that allows her and Kurstyn to participate in sports there, despite not being enrolled in the district.

“I’m glad they made a decision when they did,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “Our first parade is tomorrow.”

While Mrs. Roberts said she’s glad to have Meaghan back in the band, she also said her hands where tied and without the board deciding to change the policy, there wouldn’t have been anything she could do.

“The policy was very black and white,” she said. “Because I work there I had to follow the policy.”

Mr. Glover said at the time the policy was written there were no home schooled students in the district so it was a non-issue.

“Now there are, so the board wants to give them the chance to participate,” he said. “The board is all about opportunities for kids. As long as they’re in the district, we want them to have those opportunities.”

While the district’s new policy will allow home schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities, it is against New York State Law to allow students not enrolled in a school to participate in varsity athletics there, but Mr. Barker said that too may be changing soon.

Following the emergence of Tim Tebow, who was home schooled and allowed to participate in varsity athletics in the state of Florida, Mr. Barker said several states, including New York, have passed or are debating bills that would grant home schooled students equal access to all of a school district’s extracurricular activities.

The bill, which is commonly referred to as “The Tim Tebow Law” is currently pending in the state legislature, he said.

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