Easing of non-public school regulations considered

Laws regulating Nebraska schools that choose not to meet accreditation requirements would be relaxed under a bill heard Jan. 22 by the Education Committee. Such schools, which may be private, parochial, denominational, group or home-based, are referred to as “exempt.”

Sen. Robert Clements
Sen. Robert Clements

Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, sponsor of LB1027, said the bill aims to eliminate “cumbersome administrative barriers” for parents who educate their children in exempt schools.

“I believe it’s important to respect the privacy of parents who have elected to pursue alternative educational settings for their children,” Clements said. “The parents should be the primary person in charge of a child’s education.”

Under the bill, the application process to attend an exempt school would be the same as the requirement for public schools, with only one parent required to apply to the state Department of Education. Current law requires two parents or guardians to apply for their child to attend an exempt school.

LB1027 also would eliminate the annual application required to attend exempt schools, which entails three multiple-page forms that parents and schools must file annually. Many parents and schools don’t receive their application acknowledgment letter from the department promptly, Clements said, forcing parents to begin educating their children without it.

The bill also seeks to harmonize state law with current department practices, Clements said, including removing language that requires subject matter testing for employees of exempt schools. The change would align the requirements for exempt school employees with those of public school teachers, who no longer must complete the Praxis exam.

Finally, LB1027 would remove the department’s authority to visit or inspect exempt schools and
to proctor achievement testing of exempt school students. Clements said the department has never carried out inspections of exempt schools or achievement testing.

David Lostroh testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association. The state Department of Education operates on “the more lenient end of the scale,” when it comes to regulating exempt schools, he said, but nothing in current state law prevents the department from becoming more restrictive in the future.

Lostroh said LB1027 would solidify current practices and ensure that no further restrictions on exempt schools are enacted.

Shannon Splonskowski, president of the Bellevue Area Christian Homeschoolers Co-op, also testified in support of the bill.

Splonskowski said that while she doesn’t need the department’s acknowledgement letter to homeschool, it serves as evidence that she operates legally. The department’s issuance of the letter has become less timely in recent years, she said, which can lead to other problems.

Current law allows home visits by the department, Splonskowski said, and “misinformed” neighbors or school officials have been known to notify child protective services when they suspect that kids are truant from school.

“Having the acknowledgment letter in my possession is confirmation that the state, at least for the time being, is not going to take action against us for not complying with education laws,” Splonskowski said.

Ashley Mason, a homeschool parent from Gage County who assists other homeschool families, also testified in support of the bill. Homeschool regulations in Nebraska are burdensome and “intimidating,” she said, and are more restrictive than those found in other states.

Mason also said the current two-signature requirement prevents single-parent households from homeschooling and fails to consider circumstances like domestic violence.

Brian Halstead, deputy commissioner of the Nebraska Department of Education, provided neutral testimony. He said the department agrees with most of the proposed changes in LB1027 and recognizes the need to update state laws regarding exempt schools, which hasn’t been done in over 40 years.

He said the department is opposed, however, to changing the annual enrollment policy. The department views enrollment as a “yearly activity,” he said, which also is a requirement for public school students.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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