The struggle for parental rights at school reaches a climax
The debate over parents’ rights regarding how schools operate and what they teach is reaching a boiling point in the United States, with numerous legal and political battles across the country.
This week, Florida’s Senate Education Committee passed the Parental Rights in Education Bill, also known to critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The legislation would prevent school districts from allowing discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
Across the country in San Francisco, parents have expressed outrage over the city’s school board not returning to in-person classes sooner during the pandemic, moves to rename schools amid shutdowns and the decision to remove merit from a high school. admissions system. That outrage has led to a recall vote for three board members, which is due to take place on Monday.
And in Virginia, three state Senate Democrats joined Republicans on Wednesday in voting to make masks optional in Commonwealth K-12 classrooms, something the governor said. Glenn YoungkinGlenn YoungkinVirginia AG Congressman resigns amid scrutiny of Facebook posts praising Jan. 6 rioters Kemp seeks to make masking optional in Georgia schools struggled to get by with an executive order that is being fought in court.
Parents’ national anger over their children’s education first surfaced during a series of contentious school board meetings in Loudoun County, Va. last year, and has since played a role in the country’s most intense political, legal and cultural battles.
Conservatives and parent rights activists argue that this anger stems from parents pushing back on what they say is the influence that institutions like Hollywood, corporate America and the government have in the classroom.
“This whole regime is at war with parents,” said Terry Schilling, president of the conservative American Principles Project. “They just want to raise their families on their values and take them to church without people interfering, but they’re interfering with that and that’s why there’s a big conflict right now.”
The American Principles Project, which describes itself as “America’s best family advocate,” is one of many conservative groups dedicated to touting the influence of parents inside and outside the room. of class.
Schilling said the battle between parent rights activists and institutions like school boards is the first of its kind.
“For the first time across the country, it doesn’t matter if you’re in California or Texas, the right of parents to raise their children and instill values in them is being taken away from them,” he said, citing the mask and vaccine mandates. , critical race theory, and discussions of gender and sexuality in the classroom.
Activists say the movement was born with the coronavirus shutdowns in 2020 giving parents a closer look at their children’s school curriculum.
“Most people have realized that it’s not just about academics anymore,” said Alleigh Marré, president of the right-wing Free to Learn Coalition. “There’s a lot more activism that we see in the classroom then this pushback from academics.”
School boards were at the heart of the country’s latest culture war. While school board meetings rarely received national coverage before the pandemic, over the past year the news has been filled with scenes of crowded and noisy school board meetings involving discussions about rights. of transgender people in the classroom, critical race theory and mask mandates.
Voters’ access to school boards made it easier for parents and activists to attend meetings and organize around them. Conservatives argue that school board members’ access to parents and constituents gives them no excuse not to listen to their concerns and demands.
“You’re not a congressman, you’re not a U.S. senator responsible for an entire state, you’re responsible for the citizens of your county, and there’s no excuse that you should block parents or limit their ability to communicate their political views on what should happen in education policy at the local level,” said Schilling.
The energy from the parents’ rights movement was evident in the race for governor of Virginia, with the current governor. Glenn Youngkin (R) taps into the energy of disgruntled parents.
However, not all parent-led protests during the coronavirus pandemic have been led by the right. In fact, the parent-led protests that have emerged across the country during the pandemic represent a wide range of views that don’t necessarily fit neatly into political categories.
“If you have so-called parent rights groups popping up and operating in wildly different cities, different partisan makeups, [groups]there is clearly something much bigger going on and that is the pandemic,” said Tyler Law, a California-based Democratic strategist.
“The pandemic has caused enormous amounts of frustration, anger and despair,” Law said. “It’s just not Republicans or Democrats or people in the middle; everyone was affected by this, and no one more than the parents.
In the liberal stronghold of San Francisco, three Democratic school board members are facing a recall effort, which was backed by the city’s Democratic mayor, London Breed.
“Unfortunately, our school board’s priorities have often been seriously misplaced,” Breed said in a statement in November. “During such a difficult time, the decisions we make for our children will have long-lasting impacts. This is why it is so important to have leadership that will tackle these challenges head-on. … Our children must come first.
And this week, a number of Democratic governors announced they would begin easing mask requirements in their states, a demand that many parent rights groups have been calling for.
Democrats say the party’s losses in Virginia and New Jersey are, in part, the result of Democrats being the party in control at a time when there is so much frustration during the pandemic.
“There’s a tremendous amount of frustration and backlash right now and Democrats are in the driver’s seat,” Law said. “The unfortunate challenge for Democrats is at a time when people are just at their breaking point over COVID, we’re in charge of the Presidency, Senate and House.”
However, Law said he believes parental protests against school systems will eventually fade with the pandemic.
“People may be more involved in school board elections than they ever have been,” he said. “I have a hard time believing that years from now, school boards will be the focus. »