Inclusivity and civil rights underpin a new Bill of Rights for Students and Parents that Democrats have drawn up to counter Republican efforts to seize more influence over classroom instruction.
A “Parents Bills of Rights” recently introduced by Republicans in Congress accuses school leaders of “ignoring the wishes of parents while special interest groups try to criminalize free speech.” The Democrats’ proposal, on the other hand, advances “an inclusive, aspirational, and affirmative vision for public education,” asserts the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon.
“Parental involvement is critical to developing and sustaining high-quality public schools, and we must do all we can to involve parents and break down barriers that prevent or discourage participation,” Bonamici says.
“Additionally, we must speak out against and end the attacks on public education that are jeopardizing these essential relationships and threatening to make schools a less welcoming place for Black students and other students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQI+ students, and other marginalized students,” she adds.
5 pillars of the Bill of Rights for Students
Bonamici’s resolution, which has the support of nearly 30 other lawmakers, is built on five concepts:
1. A well-rounded education: All students should be able to receive a well-rounded education that provides them with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful.
2. Authentic parental involvement: Parents and families, including those from diverse backgrounds, should be able to collaborate in close partnership with their children’s educators.
3. Responsive and inclusive public schools: Public schools should be places where students and educators are supported and where students receive the care and counseling they need.
4. Students’ civil rights: All students should learn in environments where they can be their full selves and remain free from all forms of discrimination.
5. Education and democracy: Public schools are integral to the building of a multiracial, multiethnic, diverse and inclusive democracy. All students should receive instruction that is historically accurate, reflects the diversity of our nation, and prepares students to think critically and participate actively in a representative democracy.
What the GOP proposal says
Bonamici’s proposal has little chance of moving forward in the Republican-controlled House.
And the Republicans’ National Parents Bill of Rights, which has more than 70 co-sponsors, is not likely to survive the Democrat-controlled Senate or, even if it does, a veto by President Joe Biden. However, it could be a sign of things to come should Republicans win the White House or retake control of Congress.
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A parents’ bill of rights proposed by Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, failed in 2021. The new proposal says parents have the right to know what their children are being taught, be heard, see the school budget and spending, protect their child’s privacy and keep their children safe
Many district and building leaders would like already guarantee that parents enjoy all these rights. School budgets are, of course, public documents, and districts follow state and federal laws around student privacy. And all stakeholders have long had the right to express their concerns at public school meetings though some parents had not exercised those rights before the political turmoil of the pandemic.
Potentially new mandates in the GOP bill pertain to library books, student surveys and on-campus violence, including:
- Parents must be given timely notice of any plan to eliminate gifted and talented programs.
- Schools must provide parents with a list of books and reading materials available in the school library.
- Parents must consent before any medical exam takes place at school, including mental health or substance use disorder screenings, before students are surveyed.
- Schools must notify parents of violent activity occurring on school grounds or at school-sponsored events while still protecting the privacy of the students involved in the incident.