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Utah legislator calls for end to compulsory education

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FILE: Utah state Sen. Aaron Osmond said in calling for an end to compulsory education in his state.AP

The idea of forcing children to attend school is outdated and should be scrapped in favor of a system that encourages learning by choice, state Sen. Aaron Osmond said in calling for an end to compulsory education in Utah.

"Some parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system," the South Jordan Republican first wrote on a state Senate blog on Friday.

"As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness."

Osmond said that in the current state of public education, teachers do not receive meaningful support from parents, while at the same time parents become frustrated that schools are not able to meet the individual needs of their children.

"Let's let them choose it, let's not force them to do it," he told the Desert News on Monday. "I think that's when you start seeing the shift."

State School Board member Leslie Castle said she agrees that schools have become burdened with nonacademic responsibilities, like daily nutrition, basic health screenings and behavioral counseling. But the reality of Utah's increasingly diverse population is that many children require those services, she said.

"We live in a society where some children require help beyond the ability of their parents," Castle said. "Those students don't deserve to be punished, they don't deserve to be disqualified."

She said because of compulsory education, teachers and educators are typically the first to see evidence of trouble at home, from abuse to malnourishment. Without the requirement to attend school, or if nonacademic services were removed from the public education system, it would be necessary for the state to create some other form of publicly funded service to fill that role, Castle said.

"Right now, every single day, somebody is checking on these children in the state of Utah," she said. "Somebody is seeing them, somebody is a watchful eye."

Osmond said he is not advocating that students stop attending school but instead that the culture be changed from an obligation to a choice. He gave the example of kindergarten, which nearly all children attend despite no requirement to do so.

"When the choice is available to them, they're choosing kindergarten 92 percent of the time," he said. "We have to shift the culture more than just the process."

But Castle said ending compulsory education would affect far more than just culture. She also worried the tone of Osmond's article was indicative of the general sentiment in Utah's Legislature, which she said has continued to place responsibility for student success on teachers and schools while failing to provide adequate support or funding.