Singer-Swapp siege a turning point in Utah home school policies, practices and attitudes

Published: Saturday, July 13 2013 6:05 p.m. MDT

Debby and Frank Mylar talk about home schooling with their daughter Rebekah, age 11, at their home in Cottonwood Heights on Friday, July 12, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Thirty years ago, a father decided to remove his children from Utah public schools.

Initially, the family agreed to educational testing, monitoring and evaluation of their school-age children. Two years later, John Singer refused further testing of the children, resulting in a bitter legal battle over the issue of educational neglect.

That decision set in motion a series of events — including the bombing of the Kamas LDS Stake Center by Addam Swapp — which culminated with the siege at the Singer-Swapp farm in Marion, ending on Jan. 28, 1988, with the fatal shooting death of Utah Department of Corrections Lt. Fred House.

Nine years earlier, John Singer was shot to death following a stand-off with law enforcement officers. Family members claimed the bombing was intended to provoke a violent confrontation that would lead to John Singer's resurrection, according to Deseret News archives. This past week, Swapp was released from custody after serving more than 24 years in state and federal prisons for convictions related to the bombing.

While the educational neglect issue became a footnote in the saga, the events became a bright line in the public policy debate whether the state or families had the responsibility for educating children.

“The Singer-Swapp standoff was a benchmark event for home schooling in Utah. It became very clear. I don’t think educational officials or anyone working on a truancy issue ever wanted to be put in a position again of having deaths occur because a child was not coming to school,” said Karen Sterling, director of student advocacy and access for the Canyons School District.

Fifteen years after the siege at Marion, public policy and practice regarding parents who elect to educate their children at home have undergone a significant sea change.

Instead of policing suspected educational neglect, public schools have become a resource for home school families.

State law allows children to be dual enrolled, meaning they can take classes in their neighborhood public schools. They also can take part in extracurricular activities.

The Utah State Office of Education offers the Utah Electronic High School as a resource.

Other education options have evolved over the same time period — public charter schools as well a larger array of private schools.

“I think there also been a broadening of horizons that there are many ways that children can be educated and I think a growing respect for allowing all those different options. It used to be, the only game in town was the public schools," said Sterling.

Home schooling

Debbie Mylar of Cottonwood Heights said she first became aware of home schooling as she followed news reports about the Singer-Swapp ordeal.

"Based on that, I thought, 'People who home schooled were really weird. I don't want to home school. You have to be extreme to home school,'" she said.

"Then, God called us to be home schoolers. This will be my 17th year," the mother of five said in an interview Friday.

Over the years, societal attitudes toward home education have significantly evolved as more people have accepted it as a legitimate educational choice, she said.

Mylar and her husband, Frank, have developed networks and the know-how to tailor educational experiences for each of their five children.

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