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May 5, 1972
Mr. Ralph E. Julnes
Joint Committee on Education
House Office Building
Olympia, Washington 98504 Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 32 (not official)
By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office concerning the authority of the state board of education to examine and accredit private secondary schools in this state. We paraphrase your question in two parts as follows:
(1) In view of the enactment of chapter 215, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., does the state board of education continue to have authority to examine and accredit private secondary schools in this state?
(2) If question (1) is answered in the affirmative, to what extent, if at all, may the state board of education utilize as criteria for accreditation any standards which are beyond those specifically set forth in § 3, chapter 215, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.?
We answer question (1) in the affirmative and question (2) in the manner set forth in our analysis.
In answering the first of these two questions, it should be noted by way of background that the state board of education has for some years been accrediting private secondary schools on the same basis and against the same standards as those applied to public schools at this level.1/ This function was [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] carried out pursuant to express language contained in RCW 28A.04.120, which, prior to the enactment of chapter 215, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., provided in pertinent part that:
". . . In addition to any other powers and duties as provided by law, the state board of education shall:
". . .
"(4) Examine and accredit secondary schools and approve private schools carrying out a program for any or all of the grades one through eight: PROVIDED, That no public or private high school shall be placed upon the accredited list so long as secret societies are knowingly allowed to exist among its students by school officials."2/
It is a well established rule of statutory construction that words used in a statute must be given their ordinary meaning unless a contrary intent appears. See Rena-Ware Distributors, Inc. vs. State, 77 Wn.2d 514, 463 P.2d 622 (1970). The ordinary meaning of "secondary school" as set forth in Webster's New 20th Century Dictionary, Unabridged, 2nd Addition (1960), is:
". . . a school, especially a high school, giving a secondary education." In turn, "secondary education" is defined as: "education, as in a high school, between the primary and collegiate levels".
Thus, standing alone the term "secondary school" as used in the subject statute clearly encompassed both the private and public secondary schools. Moreover, the proviso to the statute which prohibited the state board from accrediting either a public or a private high school ". . . so long as secret [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] societies are knowingly allowed to exist. . ." clearly indicated that the accrediting function of the board involved both of these two categories.
With this previous state of the law in mind, let us now look to the amendment to RCW 28A.04.120 which is contained in § 1, chapter 215, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess. In bill form, this amendment reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
"In addition to any other powers and duties as provided by law, the state board of education shall:
". . .
"(4) Examine and accredit secondary schools and approve, subject to the provisions of section 3 of this 1971 amendatory act, private and/or parochial schools carrying out a program for any or all of the grades one through ((eight)) twelve: PROVIDED, That no public or private high schools shall be placed upon the accredited list so long as secret societies are knowingly allowed to exist among its students by school officials."
We shall note the text of § 3 of this amendatory act below in connection with the second part of your question. However, the significant point to be noted here is that in spite of this aspect of the amendment the critical phrase "Examine and accredit secondary schools" remains unchanged, thereby clearly evidencing the intent of the legislature that this responsibility should continue to be carried out. From this, it must be concluded that pursuant to the express statutory language of RCW 28A.04.120, both before and after its amendment by § 1, chapter 215, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., the state board of education had, and continues to have, the authority to examine and accredit private secondary schools in [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] this state. Having answered your first question (1), we must now turn to a review of § 3, chapter 215, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., in order to determine its effect, if any, upon standards now to be applied by the state board of education when currently accrediting such private secondary schools. This section provides as follows:
"The legislature hereby recognizes that private and/or parochial schools should be subject only to those minimum state controls necessary to insure the health and safety of all the students in the state and to insure a sufficient basic education to meet usual graduation requirements. The state, any agency or official thereof, shall not restrict or dictate any specific educational or other programs for private and/or parochial schools except as hereinafter in this section provided:
"(1) Private and/or parochial schools shall comply with the uniform building codes and fire regulations and rules and regulations of the state fire marshal in carrying out his duties as prescribed by law, and local health and safety ordinances.
"(2) Private and/or parochial schools shall comply with RCW 28A.01.010, 28A.01.025 and chapter 28A.27 RCW.
"(3) Private and/or parochial schools shall keep required attendance records, achievement data and physical health information, all such records to be stored in fire resistant storage or duplicates of the same to be kept in a separate and distinct area.
"(4) Private and/or parochial schools shall see that members of their staff have required and valid health certificates.
"(5) All classroom teachers shall hold appropriate Washington state certification except as follows:
"(a) Teachers for religious courses or courses for which no counterpart exists in public schools shall [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] not be required to obtain a state certificate to teach those courses.
"(b) In exceptional cases people of unusual competence but without certification may teach students in certain subject areas such as music, art, and drama, so long as a certified person exercises general supervision. Annual written statements shall be submitted to the office of the superintendent of public instruction reporting and explaining such circumstances.
"(6) Private and/or parochial school curriculum shall include instruction in the basic skills of occupational education, science, mathematics, language, social studies, history, health, reading, writing, spelling and the development of appreciation of art and music, all in sufficient units for meeting state board of education graduation requirements.
"All decisions of policy, philosophy, selection of books, teaching materials, curriculum, except as in subsection (6) above provided, school rules and administration, or other matters not specifically referred to in this section, shall be the responsibility of the administration and administrators of the particular private and/or parochial school involved. (Emphasis supplied)
Although the legislature's reference to this section in its amendment to RCW 28A.04.120, supra, was solely in terms of approval and not accreditation, we cannot escape the fact that § 3 itself is not so limited. Instead, this new section broadly prohibits any state agency or official thereof from restricting or dictating by any means. . . any specific educational or other programs for private and/or parochial schools except as [in this section] provided.
It is fundamental that where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous the statute needs no construction. See, Tarver v. Smith, 78 Wn.2d 152, 470 P.2d 172 (1970), and cases cited therein. The language contained in the first paragraph of § 3, supra is sufficiently clear and plain, in our opinion, to meet this test. This paragraph expressly [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] states that private and/or parochial school ". . . should be subject only to . . ." certain minimal state controls. In addition, it expressly restricts any state agency or official thereof from dictating specific educational or other programs for such schools, except as provided thereinafter in the statute.
Manifestly, the state board of education is a state agency within the meaning of this provision ‑ and thus it follows that irrespective of whether the board is engaged in its function of approving or its function of accrediting a private and/or parochial secondary school, it may not condition either its approval or accreditation of that school upon any requirement that the school in question offer educational or other programs above or beyond the standards which are enumerated in the statute.
However, notwithstanding this conclusion we must also note, in totally answering your question, that the proviso to RCW 28A.04.120, supra, remains intact. Thus, the state board is still barred from placing any public or private high schools on its accredited list so long as secret societies are knowingly allowed to exist among its students by school officials. Thus, our ultimate answer to your second question is two-fold: First, we conclude that the state board of education may not utilize as criteria for the accreditation of a private secondary school any standards which are beyond those specifically set forth in § 3, chapter 215, supra; but second, we must also conclude that even where all of these standards are met by the particular school being examined, the state board still may not grant accreditation if it finds that the school officials thereof are knowingly allowing any secret societies to exist among the students of the school.
We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
GERALD L. COE
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, WAC 180-56-305 through WAC 180-56-380.
2/The language of 28A.04.120 (4) was originally enacted in section 1, chapter 80, Laws of 1933. The basic function of approval of a private school in this state is to qualify the school for attendance in lieu of public school attendance under our "compulsory education" law ‑ chapter 28A.27 RCW. Accreditation, on the other hand, is simply a badge of academic proficiency commonly serving as a basis for evaluating course credits earned when a student either transfers to another secondary school or applies for admission to college. See WAC 180-56-307.