Nearly two years of upheaval and uncertainty in America’s schools during the COVID pandemic has led many parents to feel powerless, and they’re not taking it anymore.
At the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual Policy Orientation on January 19, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott received a roaring applause when he said “parents are losing a voice when it comes to their child’s education. That must end.” The next night, at a classical charter school in Lewisville, Gov. Abbott unveiled his Parental Bill of Rights, which aims to “restore parents as the primary decision maker of their child’s education.”
Parents have become more concerned with school policies over the past two years. While some parents wanted their schools to open for in-person schooling sooner, others wanted them to stay closed longer. Some parents opposed mask and vaccine mandates in their schools, while many others are upset at their school’s lack of mandates. Political agendas have also taken center stage in schools, further adding to parents’ concerns. Finally, parents have been surprised and frustrated by school system leaders who are nonresponsive or combative when they voice their concerns. As a result of the many disruptions, parents wonder whether their children will be prepared for success.
Our children’s education should be rigorous and joyful. It should provide a path to prosperity for every child. Texas parents want their kids to succeed. That’s why Texas needs a strong Parents Bill of Rights that will ensure that Texas parents understand what their children are learning, are confident that their children are being prepared for college and careers, are respected when they voice their concerns, and can choose the school that fits their child best.
Gov. Abbott is correct in saying “no public program can replace the role that parents play in the education of their children. And yet, the essential role of parents is being diminished by government itself.” Across the country, parents are starting to realize they don’t have the transparency, quality, respect, or choice that they deserve when it comes to their child’s education.
In 2018, Fort Worth ISD sent a notice to parents that they would be teaching human sexuality with a curriculum focused on the benefits of abstinence and how to resist peer pressure. However, parents discovered—after the fact—from their children that Fort Worth ISD was teaching its sixth-grade students about gender identity and transgenderism. Some parents’ requests for access to the textbooks were denied. Parents deserve to know if their children are being taught according to their values; to guarantee that right, Texas should ensure parents have easy access to all curriculum and instructional materials assigned to their children in public schools.
Parents should be confident their children are getting a quality education that allows them to be successful, preparing them for life post-graduation in college, a career, or the military. In stark contrast to this, the percentage of students able to pass the math STAAR tests decreased from 50% to 25% during COVID. For parents to have the peace of mind that their kids are getting the education they need, Texas should maintain its A-F accountability ratings so parents can know how their school measures up. Students who choose to pursue a career after high school should be prepared with skills that employers value.
Parents also deserve to be treated with respect. Two fathers were arrested last year at Round Rock ISD board meetings, one for protesting a new policy allowing only 18 members of the public to physically attend the meeting, and the other for voicing concerns about a protective order against the superintendent. Just as parents should always treat school leaders with respect, school leaders should always treat parents with the utmost respect.
Parents know what’s best for their kids, far better than the government or anyone else. To truly respect parents’ rights, we must empower parents to customize their child’s education to best fit their needs, whether that be services from public or private schools, tutors, educational therapists, textbooks, and more. This way, parents could educate their child according to their health and safety preferences, their religious and moral values, and their child’s unique academic needs. Having meaningful choices is vital to empowering parents.
Parents should never again feel powerless, as they have during this pandemic. Texas must guarantee parents the right to curriculum transparency, a high-quality education, respect from school boards and administrators, and the choice to decide which educational options are best for their child.