SALT LAKE CITY — The State School Board violated Utah law by adopting the Common Core State Standards without substantive input from parents and educators, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the Libertas Institute.
The lawsuit includes six educators and parents as plaintiffs who allege they were denied an opportunity to be consulted prior to the Common Core's adoption, and seeks an order barring further implementation of the education standards.
"Utahns almost unanimously will say that they favor local control in education," said Connor Boyack, president of the libertarian advocacy organization funding the suit. "The question is: What does that mean? Does it mean having elected officials in Utah managing a multi-state or a federal program, or does it mean that everyone affected by that system in the state plays a part in it?"
Common Core is a series of educational standards that outline the minimum skills in math and English that students should master at each grade level. They were designed to increase college- and career-readiness for graduating students and have been voluntarily adopted by all but a few states.
But the standards have also been dogged by controversy, resulting in states withdrawing or considering a withdrawal from the standards as critics point to failures in implementation and concerns of creeping federal intrusion into local control.
Gov. Gary Herbert recently asked the Utah Attorney General's Office to review the state's obligations under the Common Core, saying he wished to settle the question of local control "once and for all."
But Boyack said the issue of curriculum control is only a piece of the legal issues surrounding Common Core. He said the lawsuit is focused on the initial adoption of the standards in 2010, which plaintiffs claim was done with little or no input from constituents.
The legal issues surrounding Common Core are greater than the question of how much or if the federal government is in control of Utah.
–Connor Boyack, Libertas Institute
"The governor has constrained his legal inquiry of Common Core to the question of federal entanglement. Our question and allegation is totally separate from that," Boyack said. "The legal issues surrounding Common Core are greater than the question of how much or if the federal government is in control of Utah."
Under Utah statute, the State School Board is charged with establishing "rules and minimum standards for the public schools."
But a subsection of the statute dictates that standards are to be implemented "in consultation with local school boards, school superintendents, teachers, employers, and parents."
Education officials have long maintained the board's adoption and review of the standards were conducted in accordance with established policies and during public meetings, but because the issue of Common Core had not yet become a cause célèbre, participation in those meetings was sparse.
But Boyack said holding a public meeting and expecting parents to involve themselves is not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the law.
"Having an open meeting is not the same thing as consulting proactively with specifically identifiable groups," he said.
Utah's open meetings laws already dictate that votes and debate be held in public, Boyack said. But the statutes regarding the establishment and implementation of educational standards include specific language about participation.
"These talking points are not going to rule the day in court when we get down to the nitty-gritty of what was done and whether the law was satisfied," he said.
State School Board Chairman David Crandall said the board is aware of concerns related to the Common Core and would be consulting with legal counsel on how to best proceed in regards to the lawsuit.
Crandall said it is his belief that the Common Core State Standards were adopted in accordance with established practices that include the participation of local educators and parents.
"The process that we follow when we adopt any standards in any subject area involves all of the groups that are mentioned in the lawsuit," he said.
Former board Chairwoman Debra Roberts said that there was a yearlong review of the Common Core before the standards were adopted, during which time the Utah State Office of Education conducted meetings throughout the state asking for feedback from community members.
Roberts said the board voted for a preliminary adoption of the Common Core in June 2010 before finalizing that action in August in an effort to provide further opportunity for public comment.
"We were as careful as we could possibly be to make sure we included as many people as possible," she said. "We were fighting for ways to get it out there. We were so anxious that people be aware of what we were doing."
Roberts said people often don't pay attention until they're angry about a decision that has already been made. She gave the example of the state's world languages education standards, which were recently updated with relatively little public feedback despite efforts by officials to publicize the decision and solicit community comment.
Lawsuits like the one funded by the Libertas Institute are "political nonsense," Roberts said, and they show how fanaticism is overtaking the state at the expense of students.
"I feel like we’re wasting all this time, all these resources, all of this energy when we really need to be putting that energy into the classroom to give teachers the support they need," she said.