Note from the Editor-in-Chief:
The Parents’ Bill of Rights Act is a highly complex topic, with information and legislation changing by the day, and tons of variance between states. Additionally, the language of most of these bills are vague, which leads to uneven enforcement and tremendous disparities in how the bills are implemented.
Our goal at Truth for Teachers is to advocate for educators and students, and it’s our position that the Parents’ Bill of Rights Act has the potential to be detrimental to both groups, as well as to parents themselves.
Additionally, we believe this kind of legislation creates an artificial rift between schools and the families they serve, when the goal for all stakeholders is to do what’s best for kids.
Furthermore, we know that public schools are designed to support the collective public good of our nation. They cannot tailor curriculum to every individual family’s worldview and preferences. It is the job of educators (rather than parents) to adapt the curriculum to be relevant and appropriate for the individuals in their classrooms, and educators deserve that autonomy and decision-making power.
Schools must be transparent with families and consider their input, and we support aspects of these bills that facilitate that goal. Therefore, we’re working to ensure the Parents’ Bill of Rights is legislated and implemented in a way that includes parent voice in decisions about curriculum, instruction, safety, and more.
We want to build communication and trust between schools and the community, so that parents understand how decisions are made, have their input included, and feel comfortable relying on the expertise of trained educators in the classroom.
Currently in the United States, there’s a lot of discussion about creating a federal Parents’ Bill of Rights.
In March 2023, the Parents’ Bill of Rights Act was reintroduced in Congress, with 73 Republican representatives signing on.
There’s also work happening at the state level in many places. For example, Florida has already passed its Parental Rights in Education Act and is working to expand its reach.
Read on to learn how the Parents’ Bill of Rights will affect classroom teachers, and how teachers can advocate for themselves and their students in today’s educational climate.
What is being proposed in the national Parents’ Bill of Rights Act?
The Parents’ Bill of Rights requires teachers to provide parents with information about school policies, practices, and procedures that might affect their children’s education, such as student assessment results, attendance records, course syllabi, and more.
Additionally, schools and teachers must keep parents informed on how their child is doing in class by sending out progress reports or report cards regularly. So in essence, we as teachers are doing the same thing we’ve always been doing – keeping parents abreast of what is going on in the classroom.
At best, the Parents’ Bill of Rights can help foster strong communication between teacher and parent—something that is vital in order for children to succeed academically.
However, the Parents’ Bill of Rights can make teachers feel like they’re being micromanaged on what they teach, and create situations in which they’re unsupported with students who have needs they cannot accommodate.
In addition, with individual states also proposing their own unique version of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, it’s important to recognize how some may focus more on specific aspects than others. This will determine which priorities and demands are placed upon teachers.
How the national Parents’ Bill of Rights affects classroom teachers
There are 5 primary rights that are outlined in the bill:
- to know what children are being taught,
- to be heard by school leaders,
- to see school budgets and spending,
- to protect their child’s privacy, and
- to keep their children safe.
All of these things sound reasonable and positive. However, the vague and broad nature of the bill allows states to take a wide range of approaches as to how to protect these rights.
For example, the right to “keep their children safe” may be interpreted as parents having the right to be informed of violence or weapons at the school, or it may not.
And, this could be a positive protection for students and teachers, or not.
A requirement for schools to openly communicate any violent or criminal activity which occurs on school grounds could foster a transparent relationship between students, parents, and teachers. It seems especially important during this time when we are seeing an unfortunate increase in school fights, shootings within schools, and drug use and weapons being brought into schools. By providing relevant information regarding these issues, the Parents Bill of Rights enables a sense of trust and assurance for those who look to ensure their safety within school grounds.
However, the act could also be used to justify increased police presence in schools and carceral policies that create an uncomfortable or even dangerous learning environment. It could also be used to scapegoat and defame specific students and families if personal details are released along with incident reports.
It’s extremely important to consider potential applications of this bill even around something that seems as innocuous and undeniable as the importance of student safety.
Parents increasingly have the right to see the curriculum and teaching materials you are using
Both the national bill and all current state bills include this right, and it’s the one that has proved most problematic and controversial. This aspect of the bill ensures that parents have insight into what kind of material and activities their kids experience in school each day.
While this sounds like a good thing, it means in practice that parents can demand access to curriculum, lesson plans, classroom libraries, and more (depending on how the state/district interprets the bill.)
You’ll need to follow your districts’ lead here. If you plan to do an activity or text that does not appear on the education department website for a specific district, it may be necessary to run ideas for texts or lesson plans by an administrator or department head to protect themselves. This will require additional advanced planning and allow for less spontaneity and “teachable moments” that follow the lead of students’ interests.
What’s happening in individual states?
The Parents’ Bill of Rights is becoming increasingly politicized and unequally implemented around the country.
Some of the state-level bills do not allow teachers to address gender identity or sexuality in K-4 classrooms
For example, while it requires transparency in what is being taught to kids, some states — predominantly Southern ones — are pushing a backward agenda by refusing to teach any information related to gender identity or LGBT issues. They prioritize censorship over providing students with an accurate education about contemporary topics that should be discussed within our classrooms. The focus is on removing social issues that they don’t want discussed, as opposed to focusing on how historically accurate or relevant the curricula are.
Decisions about how to implement the Parents’ Bills of Rights Act are often made at the district level, with some districts making few or no changes, and others making radical, sudden changes. In some districts in Florida, all books have been removed from classrooms until they can be evaluated for compliance.
Teachers may have more autonomy on what they teach at the middle school and high school levels, but the legislation has had its intended chilling effect which is designed to make teachers highly cautious.
Some of the state-level bills do not require parents to immunize their children
This is true in Florida and raises health concerns for other students as well as staff. Vaccinations for various diseases have been required for enrollment in public schools for decades for the good of public health, but this is no longer something we can depend on.
Some of the state-level bills allow parents the right to deny certain services for the students
At the school where I work, there has been a recent push to eliminate self-contained special education classrooms. After doing some research, I realized that this is related to the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which our state has already put in place.
Due to this legislation, parents of students with special needs can say they want their students in general education classrooms, and the school must comply. Parents can deny the special education services that are offered and instead make unreasonable accommodation requests. This makes it more likely that general education teachers will have students that have intense behavioral or academic challenges, and have even less support in meeting those needs.
This “displacement” of students may have a bigger impact on secondary education, since many elementary schools still provide separate accommodations that allow students more access without completely removing them from a regular classroom setting. However, the bill could impact students who are in a co-taught, ESOL, or self-contained classroom setting, but whose parents deny services. Displaced students result in stress not just on the teacher, but on the student as well.
This aspect of the Act raises a difficult question: If parents can deny practical interventions that would improve educational outcomes, who should be responsible when those needs go unmet?
Currently, it seems as though the blame will fall on the teacher or school, which is highly problematic.
Furthermore, how do we prevent teacher burnout and attrition due to a lack of support with students’ behavioral and academic challenges?
How teachers can advocate for themselves and students
Get familiar with your state’s legislation and proposals around the Parents’ Bill of Rights
In general, northern districts (especially large districts) are prone to displacement and security concerns, while southern districts seem to prioritize curriculum with a focus on social and political matters. However, this is not universally true, and it’s important to understand what’s happening at your local level.
If you are in a unionized state, you are protected against any potential retaliation for airing grievances or discussing sensitive topics, making it a sort of ‘safe space’ when needed. Furthermore, joining the union is an effective way to learn more about Parents’ Bills and how they might affect your individual school district contextually.
If your state has made unions illegal, vote to change that. Unions are powerful forces for collective bargaining, which is why they’ve been suppressed in many Republican-led states where the goal is to preserve the status quo.
Make your voice heard if you have students that you believe are displaced
The Parents’ Bill of Rights presents challenges for teachers when it comes to student accommodations. Since the bill gives parents unprecedented rights in terms of declining or requesting services that might be inappropriate — and these requests are more likely to be approved than before — dealing with such situations can create a lot of additional stress for teachers.
Be aware that parents may be able to abruptly deny emotional and behavioral support services for their children, even if this is not in the best interest of those students that are suddenly taken from a more appropriate environment. It could leave students deprived of essential support that they still need, despite any perceived improvements by parental judgment alone.
For example, if a student has had a past history of being in a self-contained environment due to emotional or behavioral concerns, the Parents’ Bill of Rights would allow the parents to suddenly deny these services without any justification. The parent may feel that the student doesn’t need these accommodations or has improved enough to be taken out of these environments, but that may not always be true.
It is important to be aware of the consequences and challenges that displacement can bring for teachers and students. If you as a teacher feel that you have a student that is displaced, the most important thing to do is to reach out to the appropriate administrators and let them know about possible displacements.
It is not guaranteed that this will be adjusted quickly (or at all), but the Parents’ Bill of Rights requires there to be a different procedure for putting displaced students in the appropriate setting. This varies by state and district, but it usually involves all teachers, counselors, and other related educators to compile data and incident reports to justify why the student needs to be put in a more appropriate setting. While it doesn’t guarantee anything, the best thing to do as a teacher is to document everything to explain what you are experiencing if you have a displaced student.
Send out regular updates (even if it’s just an email) to let parents know of student struggles or progression
The most important action that a teacher needs to take to better protect themselves is to communicate with families about any struggles that their child is having in the classroom, whether this is related to behavior or academics.
One big component of the Parents’ Bill of Rights is that in order for students to get the appropriate interventions (whether it is related to consequences for behavior, academic support, or support related to mental health), the teacher will need to show proof that they have voiced their concerns. This includes actively communicating any student behavior or academic issues with parents and school administrators in a timely manner — an essential component of the Parents’ Bill of Rights ensuring that appropriate interventions are taken as soon as possible.
Even if this communication is not acknowledged, it is still an essential action that teachers need to take in order to make it clear what they are experiencing in the classroom. Teachers must take initiative to express their classroom experience in order that students may receive the essential support they need. This can be especially important when a student needs to move classrooms or is being denied assistance from parents.
So is The Parents’ Bill of Rights a good thing or a bad thing for teachers and students?
I think some of both outcomes are likely.
The good: Parents’ Bill of Rights has enabled a much-needed transformation in our schools, empowering parents to become more informed and involved decision-makers. It encourages transparency by ensuring that any criminal or violent activities occurring within school grounds are revealed, while providing parents with the control they need over their children’s education — from class selection to accommodations.
The bad: Parents’ Bill of Rights has caused numerous problems for teachers, such as displacement and high-risk behaviors in classrooms in which teachers and students are not well-supported. It’s also putting extreme pressure on teachers to make their curriculum and lesson plans accessible for parents (something that was not typically required until recent years and creates a lot of additional work.) The enhanced scrutiny this allows can also create problems, including changing what’s taught to thousands of students based on the opinion of a handful of folks with no curriculum training or experience.
However, none of this is written in stone. It’s not too late to mitigate the bad and enhance the good.
The only way to have a full understanding and transparency of the Parents’ Bill of Rights is if teachers are aware of how it impacts the district where they work. Staying connected with your school about student progress and joining together with other teachers in the district’s union can help you stay informed on how important legislation like the Parents Bill of Rights affects classrooms. With this knowledge, it will be easier to make smart decisions that ensure success for both students and educators alike.
High School ELA
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