Republican state lawmakers across the U.S. want to require schools to post all course materials online so parents can review them, part of a broader national push by the GOP for a sweeping parents bill of rights ahead of the midterm congressional elections.
At least one proposal would give parents the power over curriculum choices. Parents also could file complaints about certain lessons and in some cases sue school districts.
Teachers say parents already have easy access to what their children learn. They worry that the mandates would create an unnecessary burden and potentially threaten their professional independence – all while dragging them into a culture war.
The bill “insinuates there’s some hiding happening,” said Katie Peters, a high school English teacher in Toledo. “It makes me a little defensive, because I’m like – no, wait a minute, we’re not hiding anything. The transparency is always there, and the parents who have cared to look have always had access.”
The bills arose from last year’s debate over the teaching of race, diversity, and sexuality, centralizing around Critical Race Theory (CRT). The GOP argues the changes are needed to give parents a measure of control over what their children see and hear in class.
“I don’t think anybody disagrees that more information is better for parents,” said Brett Hillyer, a Republican state representative in Ohio who is co-sponsoring such a bill. He said the proposal could quell disagreements between parents, teachers, and school boards before they get too far.
Other states considering some version of the idea include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
The Ohio bill would affect public, private, and charter schools, as well as colleges and universities that participate in the state’s dual-enrollment program for seventh through 12th graders.
Juliet Tissot, a mother of two from the Cincinnati suburb of Madeira, said elementary classrooms stopped sending home textbooks years ago and often fail to provide curriculum details when asked. That leaves parents groping for information when helping kids with homework.
“Children are with their parents a lot more than they’re with their teachers, and it’s bad that parents don’t know what’s going on – and they don’t anymore,” she said. “I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner, but it seems like it’s finally coming to a head.”
Tissot also supports policing teachers’ behavior more closely, including requiring them to wear body cameras.
The Ohio teachers said parents of older children occasionally pull a student from class – say, when evolution or the Big Bang is being taught in science – or request an alternate assignment when offended by a selected reading, and those interactions generally go smoothly.
The GOP acted after conservatives discovered public schools’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the race obsession in the mainstream media that followed the death of George Floyd. Some states and local school boards have banned books about race relations, slavery, and gender that promote left-wing ideology.
The proposed parents bill of rights calls for access to classroom materials and academic, medical and safety records, as well as certain entry privileges to school buildings and more. An effort last year to politicize normally sleepy school board races was considered by some as a dress rehearsal to drive 2022 turnout among Republicans.
Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute who is pushing curriculum transparency, said in a Twitter message last month that the proposals will “bait the Left” into appearing to oppose transparency. He said that will raise the question of what Democrats have to hide – which will help Republican candidates.
“The strategy here is to use a non-threatening, liberal value – ‘transparency’ – to force ideological actors to undergo public scrutiny,” Rufo tweeted, explaining that the GOP proposals will “give parents a powerful check on bureaucratic power.”
Democratic governors in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have vetoed curriculum-transparency bills. A Utah lawmaker pulled a bill last month after it faced a fierce backlash from teachers.
Reporting from The Associated Press.