Debate Over Parents’ Rights in Education Shifts to Capitol Hill From State Houses

The bill represents the legislative culmination of an issue that has become a core one for Republicans.

AP/Shannon DeCelle, file
Students of the East Ramapo School District at a demonstration at Albany on June 8, 2013. AP/Shannon DeCelle, file

Later this week, the House of Representatives will consider a “Parents Bill of Rights,” catapulting an issue pioneered in states like Virginia and Florida onto the national stage and solidifying its position in the GOP’s platform.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Representative Julia Letlow, the legislation is aimed at giving parents more control over what students are taught and what their children do while at school.

“As a mom of two and a former educator, I believe for a child to succeed, they need families and schools to work together as partners throughout the learning process,” Ms. Letlow said.

The bill would federally guarantee parents many rights that are already enjoyed in most states and set new federal requirements for school districts and state education departments.

The bill represents the legislative culmination of an issue that has become a core issue for Republicans after Governor Youngkin was swept to victory in 2021 touting a platform of “parents’ rights.”

Speaker McCarthy has hailed Ms. Letlow’s legislation as a “milestone.” In his 2022 Commitment to America, the speaker promised to introduce a bill addressing parents’ rights.

“It doesn’t matter [what] the color of your skin [is] or your wealth, when you have a child that is the most important thing in your life…. One thing we know in this country, education is the great equalizer,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We want parents to feel empowered and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Some Democrats in Congress, such as Representative Frederica Wilson, have called the bill a mostly redundant “waste of time” that would cultivate an oppositional relationship between parents and teachers.

“You are crafting a ludicrous, fake waste of time, a bunch of bull that you call a Parents Bill of Rights to monitor the most dedicated sacrificial workforce in our nation with some cheap stunt, pretending like you really care,” Ms. Wilson said at a hearing earlier this month.

The bill would guarantee parents the opportunity to meet with teachers twice a year and the right to address the school board. It would also require parental consent for medical exams that happen at school, something already required for students under the age of medical consent in a state. 

The bill of rights would also impose new requirements on school districts, including that districts post their curriculum publicly and provide parents with a list of books available in the school library. It also would require states to notify parents of any changes to the state’s academic standards and require public disclosure of school district budgets.

The bill would also guarantee parents “the right to know if a school employee” refers to a minor by an alternate set of pronouns, a preferred name, or if there is a change to a “child’s sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms or bathrooms.”

A parent would retain the right to know if a student is receiving help with cyberbullying, an eating disorder, mental health issues, and suicidal ideation, among other things.

The bill would also guarantee “parents and other stakeholders the right to assemble and express their opinions on decisions affecting their children and communities.”

If passed in the House, the bill is almost certain to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate without a filibuster-proof majority, of which there is currently no sign.

In addition to opposition from Democrats, the bill has been panned by the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association.

One critic, a dean emerita of the Howard University School of Education, Leslie Renwick, has argued that the push for parents’ rights is comparable to the outcry that followed Brown v. Board of Education.

“White parents burned books, physically threatened White teachers who tried to teach the more inclusive curriculum, and pressured school boards not to adopt books and curriculum that featured anything Black, by asserting that doing such was a divisive and communist trick,” Ms. Renwick told the Washington Post.

The New York Sun

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