We Need a Parents’ Bill of Rights - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
We Need a Parents’ Bill of Rights

When a school board in Long Beach, California, decided to build an all-sex locker room for a high school aquatic center at a cost of $23 million, it cavalierly informed parents after the fact. Parents were invited to comment, but it was made obvious that the facility was a done deal no matter what the moms and dads felt. This is happening all over the country today, and it is becoming the kind of dinner table issue on which elections can turn, as the recent outcome in Virginia’s gubernatorial election showed. But progressive school boards and administrators continue to feel bulletproof, particularly in liberal-leaning big cities and suburbs. Despite Democrats losing Virginia, parents are rapidly finding that they have very little in the way of rights when it comes to the education of their children. It is time for conservatives and Republicans to consider a Parents’ Bill of Rights (PBOR) at the national level part of their 2022 and 2024 campaign strategies.

As a conservative, I generally do not favor federal intervention in education, but that ship sailed with the creation of the Department of Education in 1979. Since its inception, the department has become part of the problem — and it would be appropriate to make it part of the solution. Therefore, withholding federal education money from states and schools that get out of line is an appropriate way enforce a PBOR.

Parents should have a means of appeal when state or local school officials tell them to sit down and shut up, as happens too often.

There are three primary areas where progressive educators and school boards have infringed on the right of parents to have a say in the curriculum and administration of elementary and secondary schools. These are gender issues, race-based education, and the systematic degradation of academic rigor. The most currently explosive area is gender. Federal funding should be cut off for any state or local school district that forces students to be exposed to the notion that choice of gender is a normal and acceptable student behavior and/or tolerates gender-neutral facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms as well as allowing boys posing as girls to play on girls’ teams.

Race-based education, sometimes known as Critical Race Theory (CRT), is a bit like pornography; parents know it when they see it. When progressives stumble over an idea that they think initially think neat, but turns out to be unpopular, they resort to semantics or get legalistic. After the Black Lives Matter crowd overplayed their hand and began to demand that America’s racist past be emphasized in schools, CRT became a dirty word during the last election cycle. In reaction, BLM activists began pointing out that CRT is an academic discipline confined to higher education and particularly at the graduate level. That may be true, but it is also irrelevant. The label stuck where it most counts — in the minds of voters. Call it kumquat if you will, but race-based education is the process of forcibly indoctrinating students into the idea that the United States was founded on slavery. It also stresses that racism is endemic in our system of government and particularly in our judicial system. This is not put forward as a theory; it is stated as a fact, and students who question it are treated as if they had proposed that two and two equals five. As with gender issues, parents should have a means of appeal when state or local school officials tell them to sit down and shut up, as happens too often. Enraged parents have been banned from meetings and even arrested under such circumstances. (READ MORE: Why I Utterly Oppose Critical Race Theory With All My Being)

A quieter, but particularly pernicious progressive movement is the dumbing down of academic standards. This has been done in the worst urban school districts for some time in the guise of giving failing students passing grades to move them through the system and increase abysmal graduation rates. Back in the 1970s, schools without walls and grades also became trendy in liberal suburbs until parents found out that little Johnny and Jane would not be going to Harvard without demonstrable grades and test scores. Now, however, many school districts are going to pass/fail grading or worse on a formalized basis to encourage their definition of equity. This “participation trophy” mentality may be OK in Tee-ball or Pee Wee soccer, but it is deeply disturbing to parents who want their kids prepared for the Darwinian environment that awaits them in the real world. Some administrators, particularly in poor urban districts, believe that children become discouraged when they are forced to compete with brighter and more motivated students. But most parents understand that self-esteem should take a back seat to a decent education. That is why so many African American and Latino parents favor charter schools and are a big reason that they are increasingly voting more to the right side of the political spectrum.

There is currently no adult supervision or court of appeals regarding educators who stray as far to the left as in the cases in the news, ranging from Long Beach to Penfield, New York, and Loudoun County, Virginia. PBOR legislation would provide such a mechanism for redress. For better or worse, most school districts need federal funding and would suffer without it. PBOR would give parents a weapon that they currently lack.

This raises the question of how the implementation of PBOR would work. It would need to include a list of red lines that states and school districts could not cross without the threat of losing federal funding. At a minimum these should include:

  • Forbidding non-gender-exclusive locker and shower facilities
  • Forbidding genetic males to participate on girls’ sports teams
  • Making gender-neutral lavatories voluntary facilities with clearly marked boys’ and girls’ lavatories also available
  • Forbidding mandatory classes that encourage students to question their gender
  • Forbidding mandatory teaching of classes that stress race over recognized American history; this would include the materials related to the New York Times‘ 1619 Project
  • Ensuring that any courses based on race or gender studies should be electives with parental approval required if students want to take them
  • Mandating that all school districts provide a graded college prep curriculum that prepares students for standardized tests (SAT/ACT) in addition to any non-graded programs that they offer.

The Department of Education would be required to use its Civil Rights Division to investigate parental complaints of violations of PBOR and direct the cut-off of funding to school districts that are in violation of the law.

Republicans would need a veto-proof majority in the 2022 elections to make PBOR law, but it should be a platform item in both 2022 and 2024. Taking back our schools is good politics and good policy. Some conservatives might object to expanding the power of a federal bureaucracy such as the Education Department, which already has 3,000-plus employees in order to field parental complaints.

But consider this: the department has few if any employees who actually teach anything. Surely we can assign some of the dead wood bureaucrats into productive tasks without further bloating the organization. If war is too important to be left to the generals, education is too important to be left entirely in the hands of progressives.

Gary Anderson lectures on Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

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