The state Legislature needs to set the same minimum standards for all schools in the state, including home schools, said Leon Pexton, president of the Juab School District Board of Education.
Because the state law has so many loopholes and is unclear in its advocacy concerning home schools, Pexton said, board members voted Wednesday to drop a clause the board had inserted in the district's new policy regarding home schools. The board decided not to require home schoolers to participate in districtwide standardized tests given at the end of each year.Board members Dale Fowkes and Leon Pexton wanted the testing clause retained. Pexton voiced the board's frustration with the Legislature in failing to address the problem.
"Whether the Legislature did it wittingly or unwittingly, they've created a three-tier school system in the state of Utah," he said. "They've created one set of guidelines and minimum criteria for public schools, one set for private, and a third for home schools."
Teachers in public schools must have teaching certificates, Pexton said. They must address the needs of all types of students, from handicapped to gifted and talented. Public schools are required to have normal set hours per day and set days per year, to teach core curriculum, are required to test student knowledge, to teach driver's training and meet countless other requirements.
Private schools must provide certified teachers, teach the state core curriculum and hold school a set number of hours per day and a set number of days per year.
"Private schools are not required to address the needs of special children nor are they required to be accountable to the state or the parent, to use standardized testing, or any other set of criteria," said Pexton. "Except the parents are paying a pretty hefty price to put them there and they have the option of pulling them out of there any time they want."
"Home schools have a set number of days, set hours per day, must teach the state core curriculum and, the attorney general's office tells us, they are to be accountable to the board as the board desires," said Pexton.
Yet, Pexton said, one set of attorneys told board members they had the option to require most anything of home schools except that they provide certificated teachers. The opinions of two attorneys general, one dated 1983 and the other 1987, said that local boards can control the testing of home schools, he said.
"But the real problem is just what in the world is the state legislature intending us to do? We don't know. What we do see is a lack of a minimum standard of accountability and low performance statewide for all students."
Under the present law, home school parents who violate a policy set by the board can be referred to social services or juvenile court or to the local county attorney for educational neglect.
"What really puts everyone in a binds is that social services and the junvenile court system has told the state school system, `We don't want to be bothered with the truancy problems in schools.' So now you have a legislative body setting the law and an executive and judicial body saying, `We don't care, we are not going to do it.' Neither wants to act. So what happens to us is that we look at it and say, `Is this whole thing worth it?' "
"The bottom line is right vs responsibility," said Pexton, adding he would like to see home school advocates do a better job of being accountable. If that doesn't happen, Pexton predicted, the state will step in and set stringent guidelines to regulate home schools and ensure that students are making adequate educational progress.