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January 13, 2017

Saga of the Bad Compulsory Attendance Law

Tj Schmidt TJ SCHMIDT Contact attorney for Oregon

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The battle to secure homeschool freedom through the legislative process doesn’t end with the governor’s signature. As bureaucratic intransigence in Oregon illustrates, getting officials to understand and abide by a new law sometimes poses an even greater obstacle.

Home School Legal Defense Association and state advocates are still reminding Oregon officials of their pledge to fix a set of rules that ignore protections enacted in 2015. The law exempted homeschooling families from changes to standardized testing, even though the measure also required students to begin formal schooling one year earlier, at age 6.

I again contacted the Oregon Department of Education this week about this very issue. Officials there haven’t given me a definitive answer yet, but I’m hoping that we will know soon when they plan to post new rules that accurately reflect the law.

A Troubling Bill

This strange case began in 2015, when Senate Bill 321 was introduced. The bill proposed lowering the compulsory school attendance age from 7 to 5.

HSLDA and Oregon Christian Home Education Association Network (OCEANetwork) opposed the bill because it would have restricted the right of parents to determine when their children should start formal schooling. While many children begin school before they turn 7, this bill would have forced parents to put their children in school if they turn 5 by September 1.

The bill also would have forced homeschooling families to completely change both the teaching and testing schedules for their children. As originally written, the bill would have required parents to ensure that their children complete grades 3, 5, 8, and 10 a year earlier so that they could be tested at the end of these grades.

While HSLDA and OCEANetwork worked to kill the bill, we also proposed an amendment to reduce its impact on homeschooling families. When the bill passed the legislature and was signed by the governor on June 2, 2015, it did lower the compulsory school attendance age by one year, but it did not require homeschool parents to change the year in which they had to test their children.

Applying the Law

In response to the new law, the Oregon Department of Education needed to propose some changes to the administrative law regarding homeschool programs. But the changes the department suggested in April 2016 caused several problems. The main issue was that the rule would not have protected the right of  homeschooling parents to wait to begin 1st grade until their child was 7. Instead, the rule would have presumed the child to be in 1st grade when he or she was 6, contrary to what HSLDA and OCEANetwork had fought so hard for in the legislature.

The Oregon Department of Education agreed to amend the proposed rule after both OCEANetwork and HSLDA pointed out that the legislature had made some specific changes in the law based upon the desires of the homeschool community. It also didn’t hurt that we were able to get some targeted email from Oregon homeschooling families objecting to the proposed rule. Working with OCEANetwork, we went through several revisions to get the new rule language the way it needed to be to protect homeschooling parents from being forced to teach and test their children a year earlier.

In their meeting on June 23, 2016, the Oregon State Board of Education adopted the changes to 581-021-0026 which presume that a child who turns 6 by September 1 is in kindergarten.

Major Mistake

While you might think that this would have been the end and that victory had been achieved, this story is not over.

When the Oregon State Board of Education staff filed the changes to the administrative rules, they didn’t actually file what was adopted by the board. They filed the bad and inaccurate proposal that they had originally submitted in April 2016. This incorrect language then appeared on the website of the Oregon Secretary of State—as state law.

Because both OCEANetwork and HSLDA were monitoring this whole process, we learned in September that the Oregon State Board of Education had made this error. We also encountered two education service districts in Oregon attempting to apply the erroneous rule to new homeschooling families.

Both OCEANetwork and I contacted the Oregon State Board of Education immediately and notified them of their mistake. They have begun the steps to file the actual administrative rule that was adopted by the Board back in June of 2016, and they have contacted a couple confused education service districts to help us correct situations that have come up.

We expect the actual adopted administrative regulations to be posted early this year. However, this situation reiterates why is so important that we continue to remain vigilant in protecting homeschool freedom—not just until a bill passes, but all the way to the end of the matter.