by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
“The history and culture of Western civilization reflect a strong tradition of parental concern for the nurture and upbringing of their children. This primary role of the parents in the upbringing of their children is now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition.” — Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
The John Locke Foundation believes it is the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of our children. One of the best ways for parents to reassert this authority and influence would be through a Parents’ Bill of Rights.
These have been challenging times for families across North Carolina. The pandemic exposed our schools’ inability to pivot to virtual learning, derailed academic progress, isolated our children, and led to declines in our children’s social and emotional well-being. Meanwhile, some school board members and administrators disparaged parents for questioning policy decisions and marginalized those who expressed concerns over an increasingly politicized curriculum.
A Parents’ Bill of Rights in North Carolina would articulate these rights for parents or guardians and define what they can expect from their child’s school community.
Parents must be free to fulfill their moral obligation to care for and raise their children and those entrusted to their care, which requires an environment that upholds the parents’ values and honors the shared values of the community. A Parents’ Bill of Rights in North Carolina would articulate these rights for parents or guardians and define what they can expect from their child’s school community. Such a document should affirm the following truths and rights:
Parents must be empowered to make medical decisions and take steps to secure the health and emotional well-being of their minor children, including access to their children’s medical records. These rights include the right to be informed about sex education curriculum, gender-transitioning policies, changes in a child’s health or emotional well-being, or other traditionally age-sensitive topics.
The current system of residential school assignment compels low-income students to attend assigned schools that too often fail them. Even students assigned to a “good” school, however, may find that it is a poor academic or social environment for the child. Many families have discovered that assigned schools champion values that are at odds with those of the parents. School choice is the remedy for this problem. Today, nearly one-quarter of K-12 students in North Carolina choose to attend public charter, private, or home schools. One of the best ways to ensure that children can attend the school that is the best fit for them and to uphold the authority of parents to direct their child’s education is to set up a statewide funding system in which education dollars follow the child while also respecting the institutional autonomy of private and home schools.
Transparency includes academics, finances, and teacher performance. Curricula, classroom materials, and textbooks should be available to parents electronically or for an in-person inspection at the parents’ convenience. Parents have the right to access financial records of the school and district. They also have the right to access teacher performance data.
Parents have a right to be notified about risks or unsafe situations that may inflict harm on their children or the school environment. Parents have the right to be notified immediately concerning issues of academic testing, student surveys, or privacy.
Parents have the right to representation on all committees and boards that develop academic standards, schedule special programs and events, and select textbooks and instructional materials. In addition, parents have the right to encourage the creation of new parent organizations and networks to ensure schools reflect a diversity of parent voices and perspectives. Parents also reserve the right to opt out when polarizing or potentially age-inappropriate materials are taught or administered (e.g., student surveys) in the classroom, with opting out the default and parental affirmation required for their child to participate in such activities.
Parents have the right to an easily accessible process for registering complaints that will hold accountable districts, administrators, and teachers not living up to the expectations outlined in the Parents’ Bill of Rights. These rights also include the right to receive replies to public records requests within a reasonable time frame as well as the right to fair and timely redress of administrative inquiries.
Today too many parents feel their voices are ignored or muted by a system that does not esteem parental authority, honor accountability mechanisms, or respect current ethics and professional standards. A Parents’ Bill of Rights can help parents regain their rightful place as the primary decision-makers over how their children are educated and raised. In so doing these efforts can once again empower parents and guardians to be the best advocates for all those entrusted to their care.
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