Lawmakers work to protect parents rights
Federal and state legislation aims to enshrine parental authority
Michelle Luft began homeschooling her children in 2019 when their public school in Long Island, N.Y., refused to accommodate the family’s religious practices. She and her husband moved to South Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luft co-founded Parental Rights South Carolina and worked with state representatives to draft a Parental Bill of Rights. The bill was introduced in the state House and Senate in 2021 and reintroduced this year after it failed to pass during the legislative session.
“[The bill] is basically to codify in state law what the Supreme Court has said for 100 years, that parental rights are fundamental and that by codifying it, it will strengthen parental rights,” Luft said. “A lot of parents don’t even know that they have the right to do certain things.”
As parents across the country push state legislators to reaffirm their authority over their children’s education, U.S. lawmakers have introduced a similar bill. On March 24, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Parents Bill of Rights Act. The bill was introduced by representative Julia Letlow, R-La., and aims to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to make all public school curricula publicly accessible.
“I’m a mom but I’m also an educator, and we know that when parents and educators form a partnership, that students succeed,” said Letlow. “And that really was the impetus of this bill. It’s about transparency. It’s about giving parents a voice.”
Under the bill, schools would be required to publish a list of books kept in school libraries, allow parents to meet with their child’s teacher twice during the school year, and recognize parents’ freedom to speak at school board meetings.
According to Matt Sharp, director of the Center for Legislative Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, many of the rights included in the federal and state bills already exist and have been upheld by the Supreme Court. Lawmakers want to clarify those protections so that parents can more easily object when their rights are not respected, Sharp said.
“This is really sort of a groundswell movement of parents that are frustrated with what’s happening, frustrated with policies that undermine their rights,” Sharp said. “It’s not burdensome to require schools to say, ‘Hey, parents, we’re going to be teaching on these subjects. Here’s the material we’re going to be using.’”
Opponents of the legislation say it puts too many restrictions on school officials and teachers. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill will not pass in the U.S. Senate.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., introduced an alternative bill, called the Bill of Rights for Students and Parents, that prioritizes students’ civil rights, collaboration between parents and teachers, and a “historically accurate education.” The NAACP, the National Parents Union, and the National Parent Teacher Association support the bill.
“What [supporters] want to see is something constructive, something positive that makes parents and teachers collaborative rather than adversarial,” said Bonamici. “Of course parents should be involved in their students’ education, but what concerns me as well are provisions that are added to the bill that will require teachers to out LGBTQ students to their parents.”
The Parental Bill of Rights Act would require public elementary and middle schools to obtain parental consent before calling a child by a different name or pronoun.
Edward Bartlett, president of the due process watchdog organization SAVE Services, said the federal government and the Department of Education have used Title IX protections to prioritize gender ideology over parental rights in schools.
“We do have a strong sense that the school has decided that school administrators and teachers have full rights to teach whatever they wish to teach,” said Bartlett. “I don't think we know how widespread these problems are, but just looking at the number of states that have introduced these bills, that right there tells you something.”
At least a dozen states have introduced parental rights bills that would increase school transparency. In South Carolina, Luft said she and her team looked to Florida’s 2021 parents bill of rights as a framework for their legislation.
Luft said Florida’s 2021 bill gave parents an opportunity to get more involved with their children’s education which later drove the state to pass the Parental Rights in Education Act last year. That act shields students in kindergarten through third grade from instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. Florida officials last month released a proposal to expand the protections through 12th grade.
Paula Greenspon’s district in Wake County, N.C., allows teachers to call a student by a different name or pronoun without informing parents. “I don’t feel comfortable doing that,” said Greenspon, a sixth grade math teacher with 20 years of experience. “As a parent, I would want to know that.”
On Feb. 7, North Carolina senators passed the Parents’ Bill of Rights and sent it to the state House. Like similar bills in other states, the legislation would prohibit instruction about gender identity or sexuality in kindergarten through 4th grade.
Greenspon, who plans to retire at the end of the school year, said she doesn’t anticipate the bill will have a significant effect on her or other teachers because parents already have access to curriculum and educational objectives online. She said it is more important that parents retain the right to opt their children out of instruction they disagree with while maintaining standard curriculum for all students.
As a longtime educator, Greenspon supports the goal of unifying parents and teachers but said parents have become less engaged with their children’s education. This year, she said only two out of about 100 families whose children she teaches have reached out for conferences. While legislation aims to set requirements for schools to offer parent-teacher conferences, Greenspon says parents have just as much responsibility to schedule meetings and be active in their children’s education.
“Personally, I see parents very disconnected from their school,” Greenspon said. “If the parents have a bill of rights, then then they need to make sure that they’re upholding their responsibility.”
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