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Iowa Will Shelve Its Attendance Law for 1 Year

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Under persistent and intensive pressure from home-schooling advocates, the Iowa General Assembly has placed a one-year moratorium on enforcement of the state's compulsory-education laws.

The unusual measure--passed on April 16, the last day of the session--was termed a compromise between home schoolers and public-education proponents.

It was introduced after a measure that would have eliminated a requirement that all schools be supervised by a licensed teacher failed on a tie vote in the House education committee.

Gov. Terry E. Branstad, who pushed for an easing of the regulations governing home schools, has said he will sign the measure, but indicated he was disappointed.

"It doesn't solve the problem,'' Mr. Branstad said at a press conference after the legislative session ended. "Eventually, the legislature is going to have to bite the bullet and do what most other states have done,'' which is to eliminate the licensing requirement.

The Governor is expected to sign the bill in the next two weeks.

3 States Require License

Only three states--Iowa, Michigan, and North Dakota--require home teachers to hold a license. In the past five years, more than a third of the states have modified their laws to make them more permissive toward home schooling. (See Education Week, Sept. 30, 1987.)

Home schoolers and fundamentalist Christian educators argue that the licensing requirement is prohibitive and represents unwarranted state intervention. Some fundamentalists also say that their religion requires them to teach their own children and oppose any state mandate.

The last-minute measure in Iowa, HF 650, will end for one year the prosecution of parents who teach their children at home without the supervision of a certified teacher, and of parents who send children to unapproved private schools.

Parents must submit their children's names, ages, and weekly lesson plans to their local school district, however.

After the one-year moratorium ends, the charge for violating the truancy law will be reduced to a simple misdemeanor under the measure, with the penalty reduced from a possible prison term to 40 hours of community service.

Education groups adamantly opposed the bill to remove the certification requirement, but they were split on the one-year moratorium.

"Placing a moratorium on the law was a political decision on the part of the General Assembly to prevent parents from being jailed and to remove the issue during the 1988 campaign,'' said Philip C. Dunshee, a spokesman for the Iowa Association of School Boards. "The real danger is that the Assembly may be compelled to extend the moratorium instead of resolving the problem.''

Even if the licensing requirement is lifted, he said, "there are still going to be people in the home-instruction community who don't want any state involvement whatsoever and who will violate the law.''

But the Iowa State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, neither opposed nor supported the moratorium, said Jan A. Reinicke, a spokesman. The group, however, supported the reduction of the penalty.

"We did not like seeing parents and ministers go to jail,'' she said.

Board, Department Split

The debate over licensing also split the state board of education and the education department, with the board pressing to maintain the current law and the department advocating some type of alternative, said Gale Sullivan Fleig, legislative liaison for the department.

"We hope that the next legislative session will find some way to allow more freedom for parents while keeping the state's interests in mind,'' she said.

Home-schooling advocates said the debate next year could be even more fractious than this year's.

"Iowa is in a big push right now for quality education,'' said J. Michael Smith, vice president of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, which worked with parents in Iowa to lobby the legislature.

"Many people sincerely believe that if certification is what you should have in public schools, then it should be in all schools,'' Mr. Smith said. "It's not going to be easy to change their minds.''

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