Exercise your Rights, Parents!
Last week, Republicans passed a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” in the House, which is likely to fail in the Senate. Democrats and some Republicans are “fiercely opposed to the bill, dubbing it the ‘politics over parents act’...claim[ing] it seeks to codify already existing parental rights and politicizes the classroom.” Interestingly, House amendment 123 ensures that this bill applies only to public schools, which means the bill requirements are not imposed on non-public schools, thus parents’ rights stop at the schoolhouse door at private and charter schools.
For the most part, the bill would codify rights at a federal level that parents already have in public schools, including the right to privacy, communication, and curriculum review. However, codifying rights that are already regulated at the local and/or state level is a strange flex for a party that traditionally values “local government” over “big government.” If you look closer at the bill, you can see how it feeds directly into the culture wars which helped elect a Virginia governor and have purposefully divided our communities and the nation.
This bill involves unfunded mandates and high administrative burden for public schools that would pull even more funding directly from student education. The Education Department has criticized the bill, stating that:
"[I]t’s not rooted in the reality that parents are living in….[this bill is part of a] “political agenda, [where] Republican officials are focused more on playing politics than helping our parents, kids and schools."
Additionally, the bill clearly puts LGBTQIA students at risk, includes components of the highly unpopular Youngkin’s model policies, a revision of a previous model policy, that would if passed require informing parents of any name or pronoun change requested by a student, thereby outing a student before they may be ready, despite overwhelming evidence that respecting pronouns makes student safety a priority. Also, this bill breaks the privacy rules of other students. Specifically it requires schools to inform all parents if a student who is trans or nonbinary attends the school and/or is participating in athletics. Thus, it tramples on the core civil rights of students and their families. As David Stacy, government affairs director for Human Rights Campaign, says:
"It’s part of a pattern of attempts we’re seeing where the right wing of the Republican Party is really trying to marginalize LGBTQ people."
Many are concerned that it could codify the ability of a small group of parents to ban books and speakers. As noted by North Carolina’s Policy Watch, “the bill’s provisions mirror those passed in some state legislatures and adopted by local school districts across the country that have led directly to parental book challenges, lawsuits and bans.” Pen America, a group that promotes free expression, identified that the move to ban books is “deeply undemocratic” with many of the books banned containing LGBTQIA themes or primary characters of color. The majority of Americans of all political stripes oppose book bans.
Additionally, this bill adds significant burdens without supporting funds. Any parent will tell you about the firehose of information that comes from schools, PTAs, teachers, and after-school programs. There is so much information that sometimes it is hard to sort out critical timely needs like “when is my parent-teacher conference?” from all of the other activities ongoing at our public schools. This bill requires public schools to provide even MORE information at the school and classroom level, without commensurate funding, including but not limited to:
Names of all public speakers at schools.
Whether there is a transgender student at the school or involved in extracurricular athletics.
Opportunities to meet with each teacher of a child twice a year (easy for elementary, but for middle and high school would require upwards of 16 conferences).
Access to all professional development materials and instructional materials (videos, curricula, and books).
H.R. 5 requires that the curriculum for each class be available on a publicly available website. How is that even possible for larger secondary schools that may have hundreds of classes and teachers, or elementary classrooms that may involve a responsive curriculum that adjusts to in class needs, or hands-on technical courses? Additionally, this would likely violate copyright laws, as curricula and associated materials (e.g., books) would fall under copyright laws. This feels like an intentionally impossible burden on schools and teachers, particularly when few parents even attend back to school nights where curricula are discussed and presented.
Since federal laws and policy already exist to support supporting parents’ (and students’) rights in public education (e.g., FERPA, Title IX, IDEA, ESSA, etc.), it is shameful that extremists choose to push such a bill rather than invest the time to highlight how many rights parents (and students) already have in schools. Most parents do not know the level of accountability and transparency that exists within their children’s schools based on federal and state laws. Public schools already offer parents and guardians the right to:
Opt out of surveys, all or part of a curriculum, or even public school altogether.
Communicate with teachers and other school personnel related to their child or other concerns.
Control a child’s education within the bounds of Federal, State, and Local regulations and policies.
Review and modify student records.
Have their children receive appropriate and needed special education support.
Provide curriculum input or other feedback by serving on citizen curriculum committees at local and state levels; speaking at school board meetings, and communicating via other methods offered.
Access free public transportation.
Keep private information private.
In any education setting, there are multiple stakeholders, including students, parents, and educators. The idea that a bill has been presented to support the rights of one group over all the others is concerning, particularly when one considers that parents are not the ones being educated, nor are they the ones doing the educating. A bill for one group over all others is both unequal and inappropriate. Based on the concept that students are also stakeholders in their own education, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici introduced a Bill of Rights for Students and Parents that serves:
“[A]s a blueprint for public education rooted in evidence-based practices that support teaching, learning, and family engagement….[in] direct contrast to recent proposals that are unproductive, burdensome, and pit parents against educators.”
If one looks at the extensive requirements imposed on school systems, it is clear that this bill intends to regulate public schools out of existence under the guise of "parent’s rights" while giving private schools a complete pass at being accountable or transparent to their parents and guardians. The administrative costs alone would suck funds directly from supporting student success, while the bill itself violates the rights of parents and students across the country.
4 Public Education firmly believes that parents already have extensive rights in their children’s education. We need to know our rights and exercise them to support the best education opportunities for each and every student.
If you would like to oppose H.R. 5, please sign the Moms Rising Petition to reject the so-called "Parents Bill of Rights" and demand action for policies that will inspire and empower all parents and guardians.
If you would like to learn more about parents’ and students’ rights in Virginia schools, please contact your school or school board members, or ask us to write more about the subject at email@example.com.