- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2023

House Republicans on Wednesday pushed forward their plan to empower parents to take on woke and dysfunctional school systems by arming them with a Parents Bill of Rights.

The legislation is lawmakers’ answer to the rift between parents and school administrators that began with COVID-19 restrictions and grew into a backlash against left-wing politicization of curriculum, which has also become a top issue for Republicans.

The bill would force state education agencies to post curricula for all grade levels on a publicly accessible website and make widely available a list of parents’ rights regarding their children’s education.

It declares that “parents have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on decisions made by state and local education leaders.”

The rights listed in the bill are:

• The right to review the curriculum of their child’s school.

• The right to know if the state alters academic standards.

• The right to meet with each teacher of their child not less than twice during each school year.

• The right to review the budget, including all revenues and expenditures, of their child’s school.

• The right to a list of the books and other reading materials in the library of their child’s school.

• The right to address the local school board.

• The right to information about violence in their child’s school.

• The right to information about any plans to eliminate gifted and talented programs in the child’s school.

“So many times across this nation, we found that parents were attacked and called terrorists because they simply wanted to go to a school board meeting to be heard about what’s going on,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said during a presentation of the bill.

“The right to see the school budgets and how they spend their money, the right to protect your child’s privacy and the right to be updated on any violent activity at the school,” he said. “We think these are pretty basic things that everybody and every parent should have a right to.”

The measure is unlikely to move forward in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

No longer seen as third-rail politics for Republicans that the party ceded to Democrats, public education has become a hotly contested issue since schools were closed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and teachers provided online instruction.

Many parents caught glimpses of the subject matter being taught to their children at home and became concerned that the topics were too polarizing or explicit. Parents and school officials also fought over vaccine and mask mandates as schools reopened.

Parents took their frustrations to school board meetings, and the contentious debate became a successful campaign call for Republican Glenn Youngkin in his 2021 race for Virginia governor. Among the issues was the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools.

Republicans have accused school officials and teachers of hiding school curricula and sexually explicit school library books from parents and coercing students to change their gender pronouns and hide the change from their parents.

The bill says education officials, lawmakers and other stakeholders should never “seek to criminalize the lawfully expressed concerns of parents about their children’s education.”

In 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a memo to Justice Department officials suggesting that federal law enforcement step in after a “spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against school board officials by parents protesting public school policies.

The legislation would amend the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to ban educational agencies or institutions from acting as an “agent” of a parent.

Other measures include mandated parental notification and consent for administering medical examinations or screenings to students.

That includes the required notification procedures for school officials in case of a medical emergency so parents can be contacted promptly.
Rep. Julia Letlow, Louisiana Republican and member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, authored the proposed Parents Bill of Rights.

Moms for Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice applauded the bill.

“We are thankful that Speaker McCarthy and Rep. Letlow are focused in on the important issue at the federal level. Parental rights are fundamental rights that the government doesn’t give and can’t take away,” they said.

“Parental rights are not being respected by government entities from school boards all the way up to the federal government and Moms for Liberty will continue to fight at the most local level where the most egregious violations are currently happening,” they said. “This is one big step for parents rights across the U.S.”

Ms. Letlow introduced similar legislation last year, but it failed to advance in the Democratic-run House. Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, introduced a Senate version of the bill in the previous Congress. 

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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