Parents across the country are outraged at the blatant politicization of public education. The fervor began during COVID-19 lockdowns, as parents were able to get a peek behind the curtain and find out that schools were less focused on reading, writing, math, and science, and more focused on implementing critical race theory, teaching about gender fluidity, and teaching about the plethora of pronouns that young children now use.
Whether you are a parent in Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, or anywhere else, you’ve likely encountered something in your child’s textbook, a PowerPoint presentation, in a book they brought home from the school library, or in some other school-related material that troubles you. While spotting the nonsense is easy, it can be overwhelming for many parents to figure out what tools and resources they have to fight back against the woke indoctrination of their children.
But instead of parents getting complacent or disheartened, it’s time for them to double down as school gets ready to start up again. Certainly, attending school board meetings, writing letters to the editor, and continuing to grow the ranks of watchdog moms and dads must continue, but it is also critically important to scale up. You must be strategic, tactical, and one step ahead of the Educational Industrial Complex.
Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment Requests
First passed in 1974, the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) is a powerful legal tool that allows parents to review instructional materials – including curriculum and teacher trainings – without requiring payment.
To utilize this law, all it takes is sending a simple letter or email to your school district asking to conduct a PPRA inspection of instructional materials used as part of your child’s education. A sample of this letter can be found in America First Legal’s PPRA toolkit.
The PPRA also prohibits schools from surveying your children with questions about sex, political beliefs, religion, family life, and other issues without providing parents an opportunity to opt-out.
If children are surveyed on these issues without parental notification, or if a school refuses to let you inspect your school’s instructional materials, you can file a PPRA complaint with the United States Department of Education. If the department refuses or fails to act, you can sue the department, file an administrative petition with the department asking to stop funding the offending school, write a letter to your senator or member of Congress, or as your state’s attorney general to investigate.
Here are three tools you can use, and how best to use them, to keep holding your schools accountable:
Freedom of Information Act Requests
FOIA is certainly one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of a watchdog mom or dad. Each state has its own FOIA laws, and most school districts will have an electronic FOIA portal to submit requests, and it is important to be as specific as possible when asking for documents. Otherwise, a school district will quote you exorbitant fees to stop you from getting the documents. It’s always best practice to be concise with date ranges, custodians (senders and recipients of the information), and subject matter.
School district FOIA officers will often hold information back based on exceptions and exclusions in the state law, so knowing what those are will help you push back when they initially try to claim an exception in an over-broad manner.
Every investigation is different, but a good rule of thumb is this: use the PPRA to get the instructional materials, then, armed with those materials, submit well-tailored FOIA requests to collect information on how those instructional materials were approved, purchased, and implemented in the school system.
Public comment is an annoying necessity for school board members. Bad press for your school district is temporary, and your school district’s leaders know that. But litigation is more than a mere annoyance, and it is anything but temporary. Until now, these school districts could implement woke policies and practices that violated the constitution or state statute without fear. They long thought, correctly, that parents would be afraid of bringing such lawsuits and being canceled and ostracized for daring to challenge the regime of wokeness.
But those days are over.
Parents are now stepping up and filing lawsuits for everything from compelling students’ speech, in violation of the First Amendment, by forcing them to use preferred pronouns, violating parents’ liberty rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by keeping their child’s claimed gender identity a secret from parents, and for blocking parents from documenting a school critical race theory framework, also in violation of the First Amendment.
Equally as important, public interest litigation organizations like America First Legal’s Center for Legal Equality and others are stepping up to fund these kinds of meritorious lawsuits, so that parents do not have to mortgage their futures to fight for their children’s future.
If I have learned anything in the past year, it is this: when you think all is lost, keep fighting. When you think all is won, keep fighting. But be smart, be strategic, and use the tools that the law offers you.