Utah: SB 39 and Senator Osmond

Senator Aaron Osmond of Utah has proposed SB 39, a sweeping bill that would effectively abolish compulsory education through revisions to the state’s homeschool law. As Osmond has previously stated, his goal is to make homeschooling parents fully exempt from “any and all state educational requirements,” including subject requirements. We at CRHE oppose Senator Osmond’s proposals because we believe that subject requirements are an important part of ensuring that children are homeschooled in a legal environment that is supportive and protects their interest in receiving a well-rounded education that will prepare them for adulthood. Eliminating subject requirements, which serve as both guidelines and legal standards, would be detrimental to the interests of Utah’s homeschooled students.

Utah’s current homeschool law requires that students receive instruction “in the subjects the State Board of Education Requires to be taught in public schools” and “for the same length of time as minors are required by law to receive instruction in public schools.” Utah’s subject requirements are thus currently in line with CRHE’s policy recommendations. Finally, while Utah’s law does not require annual assessments it does require homeschool parents to file annual notice of homeschooling with their local school districts. (Click here for a full analysis of Utah’s homeschool law.) SB 39 would require parents to notify their local school districts of homeschooling once only and would remove mandated subject and instructional time requirements.

A news article reported that: “When asked if this policy meant that it was possible that a parent could choose to ignore the so called “three-R’s” in education or even choose not to educate a child at all, Osmond says that nothing prevents that now and parents, even under his new system, would be held to educational neglect laws.” It is reprehensible that Osmond would use the current deficiencies in the state’s homeschooling law (i.e. the lack of an assessment requirement) as an excuse to remove the requirements of the homeschooling law entirely. Further, Senator Osmond’s claims about the state’s current educational neglect law displays a lack of understanding of that very law.

In current practice, Utah’s Child & Family Services does not generally investigate educational neglect unless called in by the school district, which acts first in cases of educational deficiency in homeschooling situations. SB 39 would remove the school district from the equation altogether, but that is not all. The state’s educational neglect statute states that “a child may not be considered to be educationally neglected . . . if the child’s parent or guardian establishes by a preponderance of evidence that . . . the child is being instructed at home in compliance with Section 53A-11-102.” Section 53A-11-102 is, of course, the state’s homeschooling law, the very law SB 39 would dismantle. If Senator Osmond is successful in removing any requirement that homeschool parents educate their children, he will also remove homeschooled students from the purview of the educational neglect statute entirely.

Osmond stated in a news article that “if Homeschool and Private school parents decide to return their child to Public Education, their child will be assessed with an age-appropriate assessment, and the student will be placed in the appropriate academic level based on that assessment. In addition if remediation is necessary, the local school district may charge all or part of that cost to remediate back to the parent.” Osmond called this “true accountability,” apparently unaware that such a provision would dissuade floundering homeschooling parents from placing their children in public school for a better education, and that the consequences of this would fall not on the parents but on the children. It is unclear what role this proposal may play in Osmond’s legislation.

Senator Osmond also displayed a significant lack of care for students’ educational well-being when he stated that “it is possible that some students will have lower quality education than others [under his proposal, but] that happens today.” The fact that some students today do not receive a quality of education is no reason to give up on efforts to offer a quality education to every student. We should be making an effort to provide every student with an education rather than looking at current deficiencies and throwing up our hands in defeat, which is the essence of Senator Osmond’s proposals.

If enacted, Senator Osmond’s proposals would remove any remaining shreds of accountability from Utah’s homeschool provisions, effectively making it legal for homeschool parents to choose not to educate their children. While many homeschooling parents will provide their children with an excellent education regardless of what the law does or does not require, this is not true for all homeschooling parents. Utah, of all states, should be aware of this: After FLDS leader Warren Jeffs endorsed homeschooling in 2000, all FLDS parents started homeschooling their children. Parents in this cult frequently cease educating their children once they reach age 12 or 14, thus severely curtailing these children’s options. It is already difficult to prosecute such cases under the current law, but removing the law entirely would make such educational neglect not only more difficult to prosecute but actually legal.

You may contact Senator Osmond at (801) 897-8127 or avosmond@gmail.com.

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