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Libertarian group sues Utah over Common Core

Published July 31, 2014 5:14 pm

Education • Plaintiffs claim public wasn't consulted.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Angst over Utah's adoption of Common Core academic standards is about to spill into the courtroom.

The Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning Utah-based public policy organization, is funding a lawsuit against the state school board, targeting its adoption of the standards. Six parents, educators and education leaders are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed Thursday in 3rd District Court.

The lawsuit alleges that Utahns — specifically local school boards, superintendents, teachers, employers and parents — weren't properly consulted about the standards before the state school board voted to adopt them in 2010.

State school board member Debra Roberts took issue with that contention Thursday, saying it's time to quit fighting over the standards and start helping kids.

The math and language arts standards outline the skills and concepts students should understand in each grade to be ready for college and careers. Advocates say they're increasing rigor in Utah schools, while opponents see them as federal overreach and worry about quality, testing and implementation issues.

The standards were not written nor required by the federal government, though federal leaders have encouraged their use. States can make changes; for example, Utah has added cursive handwriting to its core.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the school board from further enforcing the standards in Utah schools.

It claims the plaintiffs "never had an opportunity to express their opposition to Common Core prior to its establishment and implementation because there was never a prescribed time period for public comment."

The state school board gave preliminary approval to the standards in June 2010 in a public meeting, after posting the usual public notice, and final approval two months later in another public meeting.

More than a year before that, state government and education leaders — including then-Gov. Jon Huntsman — had tentatively signed on to the plan to create the standards, which the Tribune reported at the time.

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, said the board should have more actively reached out to specific groups for feedback.

The suit claims the board violated rule-making procedures by failing to alert the plaintiffs, and violated a state law that requires it to consult "local school boards, school superintendents, teachers, employers, and parents" as it implements core curriculum standards.

"Consulting with specific groups requires actual proactive consulting," Boyack said. "It doesn't require a poorly noticed standard meeting at which a random citizen might find out and have an opportunity to communicate their interest."

Roberts, however, said the board never tried to hide its adoption of the standards. She also said the board's adoption of the standards was not equivalent to making a rule.

"We felt like we were doing everything absolutely aboveboard," said Roberts, who was chairwoman of the board at the time. "We saw a need in Utah schools. The standards as they were at the time were not meeting the needs of our children. ... We had the responsibility to make those standards more rigorous and more relevant."

She said, in hindsight, it might have been a good idea to more actively reach out to various groups for comment but there was "no intent to hide, no intent to gloss this over." She also noted that the board did later reach out to groups across the state.

Boyack said the plaintiffs and his organization would like to see Utahns properly consulted about the standards before their implementation continues. Libertas believes both the standards and the way they were adopted violates local control of education.

But Roberts said it's time to move on from the political fighting over the standards.

"We have wasted two years on listening to people who are not even looking at the standards themselves," Roberts said. "We are hurting children over political nonsense."

News of the lawsuit comes shortly after Gov. Gary Herbert announced that he has asked the Utah attorney general's office to examine what, if any, federal entanglements have been involved in the state's adoption of the standards.

He also announced he's convening a group of Utah experts to review the standards from a higher education perspective and has created a web page to solicit comments about specific standards from the public.

Most states have adopted the standards, though in recent months several have decided to drop them amid concerns similar to those of some Utahns.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are:

Patti Bateman, who was an elementary school teacher at the time of Common Core's adoption;

Timothy Osborn, who was a member of the Alpine School Board at that time;

David Cox, an elementary school teacher;

Christel Swasey, a parent and licensed educator;

Gary Thompson, a parent of school-aged children;

Steve Whitehouse, a board member of the Maeser Prep Charter School.

lschencker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lschencker