Yesterday morning, we published an interview with Heather Gardner, a Utah mother of five young children, who was told by school administrators that her children were no longer welcome on campus because she had opted them out of assessments the school believed her children were required to take.
By the afternoon, the situation became worse.
First, some context. Last year, Senator Aaron Osmond sponsored a parental rights bill that, among other things, requires a school to “excuse [a] student from taking a test that is administered statewide” upon written request of the parent. In other words, with this bill having been signed into law, a parent can legally opt out their child from “a test that is administered statewide.”
However, a legal opinion offered last September by Assistant Attorney General Chris Lacombe (who is representing the school board in our lawsuit over their adoption of Common Core), led the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) to advise schools that parents can only opt their children out of some of the assessments.
Earlier this week, Governor Gary Herbert addressed government officials and members of the public to deliver his annual “State of the State” address. He touched on education, Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform, and religious liberty, among other issues. Below, we present the real state of the state—one that does not rely, in whole or in part, upon politically popular issues that poll well with key constituencies.
The Governor stated last night, “We will never back away from… the constant overreach of the federal government. If states fail to stand up and speak out for our right to self-determination, we will lose that right to an ever-expanding federal bureaucracy.” Yet, this same governor has championed two issues that further intertwine Utah with D.C.: Common Core (which the Dept. of Education incentivized through a grant opportunity, and which the Obama administration has championed), and Healthy Utah (the Medicaid expansion program that would bring hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars—and the inevitable strings—to the state.
Political leaders in Utah must match their walk to their talk; rhetoric is hollow. A state that receives $22 billion in federal money each year—federal funds comprise 32.8% of the state’s budget—is unlikely to understand (let alone exercise) its “right to self-determination.” Federalism will be an impotent issue until if and when Utahns and their elected officials are willing to make hard decisions and forgo federal funding.
“You guys killed my dog!” Utah resident Sean Kendall told several police officers. “I’ve had this dog for three years. He was my best friend—and he was shot because an officer couldn’t back the [expletive] up out of my house!”
Geist, Kendall’s Weimaraner, was inside Kendall’s fenced backyard when Officer Brett Olsen shot and killed him on June 18 while searching for a missing three-year-old boy, after opening Kendall’s fence and entering the backyard without permission or a warrant.
Kendall’s video went viral, media attention poured in, and concerned citizens took to the streets in protest of this use of perceived excessive force. The “Justice for Geist” Facebook page for supporters now stands at nearly 80,000 likes. Despite the officer being cleared of the shooting for “acting within policy,” many Utahns remain upset that Geist was killed when, they believe, the officer could have acted in a different manner, thus removing the need to attack the dog.
As the rallies and letters to the editor and angry interviews percolated in the weeks following this shooting, I couldn’t help wondering how Melissa Kennedy felt watching the outcry.
Libertas Institute announces its latest hire—our new development manager: Heather Williamson!
Heather joins us having recently worked with FreedomWorks as their Western States Director, organizing grassroots campaigns to implement conservative policies and elect liberty-minded candidates in several states. Her educational background is in political science, which is in her blood—Heather’s first lobbying effort was at the age of 12, lobbying Congress as the Youth President of the National Right to Life.
Heather and her family have made Utah their home for the last 15 years, and has been active in politics since that time. She has managed several local and statewide campaigns, most recently helping elect Senator Mike Lee and managing his offices in Utah for over a year and a half.
As Development Manager, Heather will be working to expand Libertas Institute’s profile across the state, network with prospective donors and allied organizations, and to create outreach programs and efforts to help our mission succeed.
Curious to know more? Send Heather an email at email@example.com.
The following are some of the important excerpts from our First Annual Fourth Amendment Forum. They are provided with time codes in case you are interested in watching that portion of the video to see the comment in context.
Kara Dansky (ACLU attorney, national office), 12:50:
Where Utah stands out is that Utah is a leader in reform, actually. Utah passed a bill last session… that will require some reporting of SWAT deployments and different kinds of data that are collected in connection with SWAT deployments. I think this is a really positive trend… As far as I can tell, no state other than Utah is making much of a concerted effort to shine some light on this problem, and to bring some transparency and oversight. So I think that that’s great.
AG Sean Reyes, 20:45:
We really do want to empower law enforcement. At the same time, though, and particularly as the lawyers tasked with protecting the liberties of our own citizens, we want to make sure that they do it properly, without depriving those rights and those liberties in the process. I don’t think it’s a zero sum game. I think we can have effective and proper law enforcement, and still be vigilant about protecting the rights and liberties of our citizens.
UPDATE: Kendell’s letter has now been sent to the Board, and includes the names of dozens of businesspeople and local school board members. See the letter here.
Two weeks ago, Governor Herbert called for a “review of our existing [education] standards to make sure they truly prepare our students for college and careers.” As part of that, Herbert organized a committee tasked with the review, and appointed as its chair one Dr. Rich Kendell, “a former university president, school district superintendent, and education advisor to former Governor Mike Leavitt.”
“He has a unique perspective,” Herbert added, “that will guide a comprehensive examination of the standards.”
Evidently that “unique perspective” includes an existing bias and behind-the-scenes advocacy that violates any semblance of independence or impartiality in the review Kendell has been charged with leading. The Governor also said, “I don’t want to presuppose the outcome of this review,” but perhaps Kendell already has.
Libertas Institute obtained an email written on July 30, 2014, by Dr. Kendell, addressed to Patti Harrington, Associate Executive Director of the Utah School Board Association (USBA) and Executive Director of the Utah School Superintendents Association (USSA). It includes a drafted letter (view the PDF here) and this text:
Conservatives in Utah and around the country laughed to scorn then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for suggesting, after passage of “Obamacare,” that Congress had to pass the bill so that the people could then find out what was actually in it.
As it turns out, this strategy hits a bit closer to home.
The adoption of Common Core by the Utah State Board of Education followed a similar model of act-now-ask-questions-later. In June 2010, the Board voted to “adopt the Common Core… as a framework on first reading [and] between now and the next meeting the Board Members study the standards…” Put differently, the Board gave initial approval of the new (and untested) standards, pending further approval, without having studied them first.
But it gets worse.