Parents and Teachers are Important for Kids!

We had a big win yesterday, and now the Parental Rights in Education bill I am co-sponsoring with Sen. Lori Den Hartog is on its way to the House side of the capitol.  It will go to the House Ed Committee and, if it passes, will go on the the full House for a vote and then to the Governor for his signature, if successful.  The Senate side is often viewed as the most difficult, but you never know.

Believe it or not, the Idaho Constitution does not say, anywhere, that parents have rights, or even a role, in the education of their children. Our bill, S1096, puts those words into law.  It says that “A student’s parent or guardian is the primary person responsible for the education of the student, and the state is in a secondary role…”

Codifying these rights has to be done by the legislature because that’s what the Constitution of Idaho says–the legislature must “maintain” the public school system and the State Board of Ed runs it according to the laws set by the legislature.

The rest of our short bill uses very broad language to bring together “school districts and the boards of directors of public charter schools, in consultation with parents, teachers, and administrators” to create a process, if they don’t already have one, for parent participation, how parents can find out what their child is studying so they can follow up at home, and how parents can object or withdraw their child from “any learning material or activity on the basis that it harms the child or impairs the parents’ firmly held beliefs, values or principles”. The broad language is to allow local districts to establish their own policies, or use those that they may have in place already.

So why is this bill needed and what is the opposition to the bill?  First, the need: I wish I had room here to tell you the vivid stories sent by parents–the one whose high school daughter was told she had to read aloud a page that included foul language, and if she didn’t, her grade would be reduced.  She took the lower grade but was very upset.  Or the mom who repeatedly asked to have her child not take a certain test–one that did not count toward a grade–and she even kept the child home on testing day.  When the child returned to school, he was pulled out and forced to take the test without calling his mom.  Or the parent of the gifted child who wanted to sit in the class to observe the teacher for part of a day, but was not allowed because it was “against district policy”.  That policy needs to change!  I could go on and on with the direct stories from parents about their experiences.  I also know there are wonderful stories, schools, districts and teachers.  A great many of them.

Critics of this bill worry that parents will charge into the schools and demand their child be given a special curriculum, designed by the parents.  That will not happen.  The bill does not say the schools will give any special treatment to a student because of the parents’ beliefs or wishes.  It simply says parents should be involved in their child’s education and, if there is something the parent thinks is harmful to their child, they have the right to remove their child from that activity. Parents have rights and are the primary decision makers in their child’s education. It’s a basic concept and will hopefully be in Idaho code soon.