The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a Republican-backed bill giving parents more power and oversight over school boards’ and school administrators’ policies and decision-making processes.
The bill comes at a time when the Republican Party nationally has injected itself into culture-war battles over curriculum content, student privacy policies, special accommodations for LGBTQ students, and what books or materials are accessible in school libraries.
The House approved the bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) on a largely party-line vote, 213-208, with five Republicans voting against the bill.
According to a “fact sheet” of talking points issued by the U.S. House Education & Workforce Committee, the legislation would require public school districts to publicly post information about curricula for students, including providing a list of books and reading materials available in libraries — even if they are not used in actual classroom instruction.
Teachers would be required to hold two in-person meetings with parents each year, and parents would be allowed to publicly comment at school board meetings on district-approved policies, with school boards encouraged to “consider community feedback” in their decision-making.
The bill would also require parents to have the right to see school budgets, including revenues and expenditures, published, and require that parents be informed of any violent activity on school grounds or at school-sponsored events, while still protecting the privacy of the students involved in the incident.
Schools would be prohibited from sharing student data with tech companies, would be required to inform parents of changes to school privacy policies, and would have to obtain parental consent before performing any medical exams or mental health screenings, as well as before students complete any behavioral surveys containing questions about sensitive topics to which parents might object.
Democrats have largely opposed the bill, arguing that Republicans are simply pushing divisive social agendas and are instead imposing new reporting requirements and unfunded mandates on schools that will leave administrators and teachers more focused on meeting the law’s dictates than on actually teaching.
Opponents are also concerned that the bill will result in bans on or the removal of books and lesson plans that touch on potentially controversial subjects, historical events, or are written from the viewpoint of racial, religious, or political minorities.
Additionally, LGBTQ advocates fear the bill’s requirements will encourage administrators and school districts to adopt policies hostile to LGBTQ-identifying students such as banning books with LGBTQ characters, barring transgender children from gender-affirming facilities, or prematurely “outing” LGBTQ students to their parents.
The Office of Management and Budget released a statement noting that the Biden administration does not support the bill as introduced.
“The administration does not support H.R. 5 in its current form because the bill does not actually help parents support their children at school,” the statement reads. “Moreover, instead of making LGBTQI+ students feel included in their school community, it puts them at higher risk. The administration strongly supports actions that empower parents to engage with their children’s teachers and schools, like enabling parents to take time off to attend school meetings. Legislation should not politicize our children’s education.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to take up the legislation this session.
First Focus on Children, a bipartisan advocacy organization that calls for centering children and families in federal policy and budgeting decisions, opposed the bill, calling it a “Politician’s Bill of Rights” that would “usurp the authority of parents and children in the schools that they attend and support with their tax dollars.”
“Parents are fundamental to the upbringing of children and absolutely should be engaged and involved in the education of their children. In fact, children have better outcomes when their parents are involved,” the organization’s president, Bruce Lesley, a parent of four, wrote in a letter to members of Congress opposing the bill. The letter was addressed to the bill’s sponsor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and the chair and ranking member of the House Education & Workforce Committee.
“[W]e strongly support parental engagement in education, but parents should not control all curriculum and educational decisions. Doing so is unworkable,” added Lesley, providing examples of how H.R. 5 could potentially empower a minority of parents holding fringe or factually incorrect views to impose those views on the entire student body, or demand special accommodations that impose additional burdens on teachers.
The solution, argued Lesley, is to follow what parents and children have told pollsters about educational priorities, including pushing greater investment in public education, safety measures to prevent gun violence in schools, adopting curricula that teach children lessons and skills they’ll need to be successful in school and in life, addressing teacher shortages, providing mental health services for students who need them, expanding tax breaks for families with children, providing child care opportunities for working parents, and expanding family and medical leave.
“Parents are far more interested and focused on improving education, child health, and reducing child poverty, hunger, and homelessness than book bans, censorship, the whitewashing of history and science, and the excessive filing of numerous records requests for personal and confidential information about school teachers,” Lesley concluded. “Let’s work together toward those goals.”
The National Black Justice Coalition, a leading Black LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, condemned the bill as “yet another vehicle for the anti-democratic, white nationalist GOP to traffic in hate and discrimination in its crusade against Black people and the LGBTQ+/Same-Gender Loving community.”
“This bill is political posturing designed to ignite the [Republican] Party’s base around anti-woke hysteria. In this case, the bill would allow parents susceptible to manufactured right-wing paranoia to opt their children out of any education related to race, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” Dr. David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a statement.
“The bill and the underlying threats to democracy, civility, and holistic development pose a significant threat to the rights and safety of Black, transgender, and LGBTQ+ students and puts already vulnerable students at additional risk, limiting their access to resources and support needed to thrive,” Johns added.
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