Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction introduced legislation to the state’s House of Representatives that would create a parental bill of rights for those with students in the state’s K-12 schools.
The proposed law would create protections for parental rights by requiring schools to disclose information such as changes to a student’s physical, mental and emotional health and to notify parents about other academic and health information.
Idaho State Board of Education Superintendent Debbie Critchfield introduced HB 163 on Wednesday to the House Education Committee, where the measure was passed unanimously and sent to the full House. Critchfield said the measure is necessary, but not because districts are doing a bad job.
“It provides a consistency and uniformity, regardless of where we are in the state, that there is a minimum requirement or expectation for how our schools communicate about sensitive topics and issues and matters that would be important to parents,” Critchfield told Chalkboard Review.
Critchfield said that in her experience, asking parents and guardians to be more involved in their children’s education during the pandemic has resulted in more attention and questioning in their school district’s decisions.
“This legislation is honestly designed to take the politics out of being a parent,” Critchfield said. “Here are the basic things that we believe parents should know about. It shouldn’t be a hot-button topic but a reasonable expectation.”
The provisions would make schools responsible for alerting parents or guardians about “known changes in the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” and reinforce “the fundamental rights and responsibilities of parents as primary stakeholders to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of the parent’s child.”
Additionally, schools would have to notify and obtain parental consent before students take surveys that inquire about personal information related to sexuality, religion, beliefs or family financial information.
Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that staff at a California school withheld from one mother that her 15-year-old student was asking teachers to use different pronouns for six months.
When asked about whether the legislation would require schools to alert parents about changes in a child’s gender, Critchfield said that’s outside the scope of the bill.
“It doesn’t call that out explicitly,” Critchfield said. “What it does talk about is notifying a parent or guardian if there are known changes in the student’s mental, emotional, physical health and well being.”
She added that counselors have ethical standards that they adhere to, and the law wouldn’t ask them to go outside those.
“To me, it’s codifying common sense,” Critchfield said.
Besides requiring school staff to adopt policies that encourage students to discuss their well-being with parents or guardians and facilitate such discussions, parents would be able to request education and health records from districts — as long as the information was not related to parental neglect, abandonment or abuse.
Public schools would also be required to inform parents about any health services available and notify parents if their child has talked with a school resource officer or police unless the child is a suspected victim of domestic abuse.
If passed, the bill would amend existing state law, which currently allows parents to review learning materials and the source for supplemental educational materials. Parents can also currently withdraw their children from the activity, program or class where material they object to is used.
Critchfield decried the way teachers and parents have seemed pitted against each other in recent years.
“There’s this tendency to really politicize these things and go into it with this perception that we’re trying to force this on schools and trying to really divide this is what a parent does and this is what a teacher does,” Critchfield said.
But she says the bill contains words like “notification,” “communication” and “consent.”
“It really does come down to how we communicate and how we invite conversations that are really impactful for making our students be successful in the classroom,” Critchfield said. “And that has to start first with our families.”