Hundreds of home school affidavits have been filed by parents from a polygamous community at the Utah/Arizona border in the past week, a reaction apparently triggered by a threat to enforce truancy laws.
Since Aug. 28, the number of home school affidavits filed for children in Colorado City, Ariz., has soared from 14 to 413.
The town, along with the adjoining city of Hildale, Utah, is home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
"It is an interesting turn of events but we're glad it's happening," said Michael File, Mohave County school superintendent. The filings cover children from kindergarten to 12th grade, he said.
Similar information was not available from the Washington County School District for residents of Hildale. LuAnne Forrest, two weeks into a new job as student services director, said the district has not kept well-organized records about homeschool enrollments.
In both states, there is minimal oversight of home schooling. Utah parents are required to file exemption certificates with the local school board.
Under Arizona law, parents who choose to home school are required to file a birth certificate for each child and an "affidavit of intent" in which they pledge to cover basic subject areas. Until last week, most parents ignored the filing requirement.
"I am not sure whatclicked the wheels into motion but they are doing it," File said.
Call for enforcement: In July, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard told the Senate Judiciary Committee that it appeared that "hundreds of [FLDS] children are not receiving an education."
He noted parents were not filing affidavits and said children were routinely seen outside their homes playing during school hours.
"I am enlisting the help of our state school authorities and community advocates to enforce truancy laws and persuade parents to enroll their children in school," Goddard said.
FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop acknowledged Friday that parents were encouraged to register their children this year.
The FLDS withdrew their children from the community's public schools in 2000. The children have been home schooled since 2006, when private schools in the twin towns were closed.
Mixed views: The compulsory education law in Utah requires school attendance for children ages 6 to 18; in Arizona, children must attend until age 16 or completion of 10th grade.
In Arizona, parents who home school their children are "free to use whatever curriculum they wish," File said.
There is mixed information about the quality of the FLDS curriculum. Some child advocates say many children in the community receive an inadequate education that ends by 10th grade or sooner.
Michelle Benward, director of New Frontiers for Families in southern Utah, has worked with dozens of FLDS teenagers who have left the twins towns. Most have deficits in their educations, she said.
"But they are really bright, and with a little direction [get up to speed] quickly," Benward said, whose program has helped about two dozen teens complete or work on GED or high school degrees.
For some FLDS families, education and even college are encouraged, according to sect members.
"Different people put different priority on what children are taught," Jessop said. Some emphasize trade skills, while others push academic learning.
Jessop said that allegations that the FLDS discourage college educations is "another one of those blatant untruths." A half-dozen young women from the community are currently enrolled at Southern Utah University, he said.