Syracuse Jr. High caught violating State Law?

Background

This morning I received the following email from my daughter’s Junior High teacher regarding SAGE testing. When SAGE testing began my daughter informed her teacher that she had been opted out. Her teacher’s “opt-out list” did not include her name.

Asst. Principal Poll, who I’m told is administering (or observing) the testing, confirmed that she was opted out last year, but that “the form was not signed again this year”. Ms. George then stated “Opting out does not carry over”. Although she honored the opt out today, she implied that if I do not return to the office and “sign the form” that she will be tested (against my will) on Thursday.

I took time off work to visit the office at Syracuse Jr. High school. Mr. Poll was unavailable due to testing, but I was able to speak with Asst. Principal Powars.

After explaining the situation to him, he confirmed that the school district only considers opt outs valid for the year in which they’re signed. I handed him a copy of Utah Title 53A Chapter 15 Part 14 Section 1403 and indicated (9)(a), and asked, please show me where, in State Law, is a parent required to notify the school “every year” that a student is excused from these types of tests.

After reading for a moment I interjected: “Let me save you some time: it doesn’t… State Law trumps District or School Policy.”

He agreed that my previous opt out request was still valid under the law.

However, he did note that “only about 12 students were opted out last year”, yet only one of those students was in the library (my daughter), quietly reading during today’s SAGE testing – in other words, if these 12 students were not “un-opted-out”, the school has potentially violated this section of State Law twelve (or more) times.

I strongly encouraged Mr. Powars to pull those forms and make sure all of the students who were opted out last year are also opted out this year.

Another area of concern. Mr. Powars indicated to me that Utah Title 53A Chapter 15 Part 14 only applied to Special Education. This because “LEA” has a different context to him than as defined in the law. I read him the definition of LEA in 1400 and made it very clear that Part 14 has to do with ALL education, and makes absolutely no mention of “Special Education”. Nonetheless, he still provided me with a copy of the Procedural Safeguards booklet that parents are given prior to participating in an IEP meeting. I informed him that that was not the notice to parents of their Rights as required by Section 1402.

Observations

  1. Administration apparently thinks “LEA” only has to do with Special Education, and the Part 14 is not applicable to students outside the Special Education Program.
  2. Syracuse Jr. High (teachers, test officiators, and administration) is under the impression that opt outs expire and must be renewed annually.

Concerns

  1. Are the schools and/or districts issuing “opt out forms” that include expiration dates on them in the hopes that parents don’t re-opt-out each year to deliberately subvert the will of the parent/guardian?
  2. How widespread is the misunderstanding that “LEA” in Part 14 only applies to Special Education?
  3. Who at the District is telling Schools that opt outs expire annually, and what can we do to have them take corrective action immediately?
  4. When will the parents who previously opted their child out, but had their opt out “ignored” because it had “expired” be contacted to tell them their child was tested against their will?

Obviously, it is concerning that State Law is being so blatantly violated by teachers, test administrators, school administration, and district personnel.

Had my daughter not stood her ground, and had I not have been as versed in the law as I am, I’m afraid the only corrective measure would have been a Civil Suit with seeking injunctive and punitive damages. However, in my case I think we’ve successfully avoided that hassle. The other dozen or so students at Syracuse Jr., however, would very probably have standing to seek damages in a court of sufficient jurisdiction.

Would it be appropriate for the School Board to handle this at the district level, or would it be more appropriate for me to file a formal complaint against the three persons named herein (with a “John Doe” for the district person issuing false information, to be discovered as part of the complaint process) to ensure that the proper corrective actions are taken?

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