New Iowa Bill Eliminates Certification Requirement While Tightening Truancy Law
On May 3, 1991, the Iowa Legislature passed House File 455. As of this writing, the governor had not signed the bill into law; however, it is anticipated that he will do so. Many of the provisions are similar to Senate Bill 149, which was so vigorously opposed by all home schoolers in Iowa during 1990 and miraculously defeated in the last moments of the legislative session. The legislation does, however, contain provisions which would strike the death blow to the certification requirement for teacher qualifications.
The bill has many provisions that are objectionable to home schoolers: (1) it lowers the compulsory attendance age from 7 to 6; (2) it does away with eighth grade equivalency as an exemption from public school attendance; (3) it provides a requirement for mediation when the child is considered truant and a criminal penalty for failing to meet for mediation; (4) it proposes a criminal penalty for meeting in a mediation proceeding and failing to comply; (5) it provides for jail time instead of community service; (6) the mediation provision requires the child to agree to the provision, and a violation of that mediation provision could be deemed sufficient to invoke “child in need of assistance” provisions; (7) it makes it more difficult to exempt blind and deaf students from state schools; and (8) children previously labeled as learning disabled or suspected of learning disabilities can be home schooled only with the approval of the school districtís Director of Special Education.
The new legislation specifies that a parent or legal guardian may provide private instruction according to the law. The requirements include at least 148 days of instruction during a school year; the completion and forwarding, in a timely manner, of a report previously required under Iowa Annotated Code 299.4, ensuring that the child is tested annually to determine whether he/she is making adequate progress; or a written evaluation submitted annually indicating that the child is making adequate progress. To obtain educational base line data, all parents must submit their children to be tested at age 7 or when each child begins home education.
Reasonable educational progress for testing is deemed to be the 30th percentile. If a child doesn't make the 30th percentile in all required subjects to be tested, the child may retest before the new school year. If still unable to achieve the 30th percentile ranking, the child is to be enrolled in a public or approved private school unless mediation is approved. The standardized test is to be administered by the evaluator, but parents may be present while children are being tested.
Regarding written evaluations, the new law states that if the evaluator says the child is making academic progress, the report shall create a presumption that the child is making adequate progress. However, the ultimate determination is made by the director of the Department of Education or the director's designee, which may include a school district or an area education agency. Should a parent choose the written evaluation, it must be done by a certified teacher approved by the Department of Education designee.
A remediation plan is available for children deemed not making adequate progress after testing or the evaluation, pursuant to approval of the director or director's designee.
Dual enrollment is still available to parents, and in such cases the cost of the evaluation by testing will be borne by the public school. Children previously identified as requiring special education are not eligible for placement under private instruction without prior approval by the director of special education in the area education agency where the child resides. Children who appear to have a learning problem under private instruction are to be referred for evaluation under the Education of the Handicapped Act. The law mandates jail time for parents convicted of non-compliance, but exempts from criminal prosecution any parent who has made a good faith effort to comply.
Although this bill is a step in the right direction away from certification, it remains to be seen if the law is workable because of the required involvement by public school officials in the evaluation process: children must be tested at a time and place determined by public school officials, and evaluators must be approved by school officials. A possible solution for parents who object to involvement with the public school is the provision that allows an accredited, non-public school teacher to supervise the program, thus nullifying the required evaluation provisions.
An alternate home school bill, proposed by home schoolers, was introduced to the legislature. That proposed law did not make it through committee hearings because it was much less restrictive regarding home education freedoms and included a religious exemption provision.