by Dr. Robert Luebke
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
These have not been easy times for parents. They have navigated Covid lockdowns, have been ignored and insulted by school boards, have taken crash courses in remote learning, and are increasingly infuriated by politicized curricula. Late last year, a former governor said parents should have no role in directing the education of their children. If this weren’t enough, parents took yet another hit last fall when U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland circulated a memo that labeled parents “domestic terrorists” for objecting to the heavy-handed indoctrination of progressive school administrators and worthy of FBI monitoring.
Welcome to the world many parents live in. They’ve had enough and are pushing back. In states and in local communities across the nation, parents are reasserting their right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. One of the preferred ways to do such is via legislation called Parents’ Bill of Rights (PBR). FutureEd, an education policy think tank associated with Georgetown University, identified 82 PBR bills in 26 states that were pre-filed or under consideration this year. PBRs are helping to empower parents in local communities across this country.
On April 19 the John Locke Foundation released an outline for a Parents’ Bill of Rights in North Carolina. Briefly, the document affirms the fundamental right of parents to direct how and where their child is educated. The document also seeks to empower parents by improving transparency, accountability and communication between parents and schools.
Earlier this week, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Senate Education Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Deanna Ballard and Sen. Michael Lee held a press conference to announce Parents’ Bill of Rights legislation.
How does the proposed legislation compare with the John Locke proposal?
A quick review of the proposed bill highlights many positives:
Enumerates Parental Rights. The legislation would enumerate certain rights of parents regarding the education, health, privacy, and safety of their children. They include, among other things, the right to direct the child’s education, care, upbringing, and moral and religious training. It also includes the right to access and review student education, health, and medical records. In addition, the bill also would prohibit schools from creating, sharing, or storing biometric scans, DNA, or blood samples without written consent from parents.
Enhances Parental Notifications. HB 755 would require public schools to establish policies and to provide information to parents regarding parents’ legal rights, student achievement, and how to enhance parental involvement. Under the legislation, schools would have the obligation to inform parents of their right to make decisions to participate — or not — in reproductive health and safety education programs. Parents would also need to be notified of their rights to seek exemptions from immunization requirements, to inspect and purchase textbooks and other supplementary instructional materials, and to opt out of data collection for surveys.
Establishes Procedures for Parental Information Requests and Complaints. The bill would establish a timeline for parents to request any information required to be provided. If the information is not provided by a principal within 20 days or if the parent does not receive notice that the request will be fulfilled within 10 days, the parent may request the information from the superintendent. If the information is not received from the superintendent within 20 days, the request will be placed on the agenda of the next meeting of the local governing school board. Likewise, the legislation also would force local school boards to adopt procedures to resolve complaints from parents within seven days after receipt. If the concern is not resolved after 30 days, the school must provide a statement of the reasons for lack of resolution, a parent could request a hearing before the State Board of Education, or a parent could take the matter to the courts for a declaratory judgement or injunctive relief.
Authorizes Parents to Direct the Health Care of Minors. The legislation would require schools to notify parents when there are changes in their child’s mental and physical health. Public schools would be required to gain consent from parents for students to use health care services. Moreover, the legislation also requires written consent from parents before students in kindergarten through 3rd grade can use student well-being questionnaire or health screening forms.
Sets Limits on K–3 Instruction on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Under the proposed legislation, instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity would not be permitted in the kindergarten through 3rd grade curriculum. The proposed bill would not prohibit natural discussions regarding such topics, rather it explicitly states the curriculum shall not include the subject matter. This is a substantive difference with the Florida legislation and one reason why it’s a mistake to say the two bills are the same. Unfortunately, early media reports suggest reporters are more interested in driving their narrative than in accurate reporting.
HB 755 has many provisions that would empower parents and reassert their rights to direct the education of their children. Overall, the bill would enhance transparency and accountability and improve communication between parents and the schools. Still, the bill has conspicuous omissions.
Parental Choice. Aside from a limp acknowledgement that parents have the right “to enroll his or her child in a public or nonpublic school and in any school, choice options available to the parent for which the child is otherwise eligible by law,” the legislation stops short of acknowledging a parent’s fundamental right to direct how and where their child is educated. Moreover, the legislation fails to acknowledge the current system of residential school assignment fails too many children. Too many parents find their children are not a fit for a school’s social or academic environment but are left with no other options. School choice is the remedy for those problems. HB 755 disappointingly fails to expand school choice initiatives. Today nearly one quarter of K–12 students attend public charter or home schools. All students should have the opportunity to succeed by attending a school that matches their needs.
Parental Consent. HB 755 would properly require parental consent before health care or mental health services can be administered. It would also reference the right to consent or withhold consent or to opt out of certain data collection efforts. For some of these efforts opt-in is the preferred option, meaning that parents must affirmatively allow their children to participate. That option should be written into the legislation. In addition, parents also need to know if surveys solicit personal information and if they have the option to opt out. The current proposal is confusing with regard to the question. Adding clarity to the law and opt-in options would work to strengthen the bill.
Financial Records. HB 755 is big on transparency; however, it would do nothing to encourage financial transparency. While financial data are made available at the aggregate level, at the school and school district level, data are harder to come by. Recent federal requirements to post school-level data will help, but those efforts are still in their infancy. Requiring the posting of check registries or expenditures at the school level would add teeth to transparency efforts.
Teacher Records. Quality teachers are an important component to boosting student achievement. North Carolina collects data on the impact of teachers on students and their learning environment. School-level performance data are available for parents to peruse. Parents should have a right to review EVAAS (Education Value Added Assessment System) data to help assess teacher quality.
Right to Proper and Adequate Notification. Parents have a right to be notified about risks or unsafe situations that may inflict harm on their children or their school environment, such as the potential for violence or the occurrence of illegal drug or alcohol use.
HB 755 would enhance transparency, accountability ,and communication between parents and schools. The bill would reaffirm parental rights to direct the education and upbringing of their children. It’s a good start, but more should be included. We look forward to the legislative process and efforts rightly to deliver to parents more control and transparency in their child’s education.