Group of students told they can’t participate in science competition

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Parents and students have been studying as a group and prepping for a science competition they’re pretty good at. But just this month, the group was told they can’t compete with their existing teams, something they say isn’t fair.

For 11 years, the home school group has excelled and enjoyed participating in a national academic competition, even bringing home awards. This year, they won’t get that same chance.

Joshua Wittwer, 10, described his air trajectory device to KRQE News 13. The 5th grader was looking forward to using it in an elite competition, the “Science Olympiad.”

“I love the thrill of it. It’s amazing, and I look forward to it every time,” said Zoë White, a 16-year-old sophomore.

White and Wittwer aren’t your ordinary high school and mid-schoolers; they’re part of the Albuquerque Area Home Schoolers Science Olympiad group.

“It is really a family,” White explained.

They’ve prepared and studied all school year to compete in the Science Olympiad, a national academic competition that covers science, math and engineering.

It’s something, it turns out, the home school group has gotten good at and they’ve won state level awards.

“We’re the only team that’s been sent to the national competition each year from New Mexico from the mid school, our mid-schoolers the last five years,” explained Linda Walkup, the teams’ head coach.

But just this month, they were dealt a blow. The group received a letter stating the New Mexico Activities Association has changed the eligibility for home schools that home-schoolers can only compete “if they join a public school team in their district.”

NMAA Coach Letter“We do feel it’s very unfair,” said Walkup.

A spokesperson for the NMAA told KRQE News 13 they’re just following an existing rule, even though home school teams have competed the last 11 years.

“We are really just informing and educating the activities directors and those individual groups across the state that this is part of the NMAA bylaws, and part of state law,” said Dusty Young, Associate Director for the NMAA.

“We are not removing an opportunity because they still are eligible to participate in these activity events,” Young added.

However, the home school group said they won’t be able to compete, since most of them don’t live near a public school that’s competing, and this late in the game, teams are full.

Parents of the home-schoolers have seen their kids excel in the competition, socializing and learning tough subjects among their peers. They want the same opportunity this year.

“There’s no slacking off, they have to pull their weight,” said Catherine Sovereign. She said her 10th grade son and other home-schoolers have a full schedule, and although they excel, the competition is not the only thing they focus on.

“He loves to be with other kids that love science, and he loves the coaches, which are a lot of parents,” Sovereign added.

Parents and their home-schoolers are confused as to why the NMAA just decided to enforce the rule this year, especially since the competition is in January.

KRQE News 13 asked that same question. Young said the rule has recently “come to light with their staff.”

The home school group has legal representation, and plans to appeal the ruling. They believe the NMAA is misinterpreting the law.

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