Do parents have a say in what schools teach their kids?
A new battle is shaping up as the federal courts increasingly rule against parental rights while state legislatures seem determined to give parents a choice
BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
techniques for performing homosexual sex acts were described in detail to youngsters. When parents were furious, the First Circuit Court of Appeals stated they do not possess “a fundamental constitutional right to dictate the curriculum at the public school.”
Almost in response, noted Dr. Rogers, “many states have recognized the importance of parental rights in education and the sensitivity to curricula such as sex education. As a result, many states provide statutory rights allowing parents to opt-out of all or part of courses such as sex education and family life education.
“Eight states are even more parent-friendly by prohibiting public schools from teaching sex education to children unless the parents opt-in.
“A few states, such as New York and Ohio, provide some distinctive opt-out statutes. For instance, in New York, a parent may only opt-out of instruction that covers the prevention of AIDS. In Ohio, there are statutory rights given to parents for opt-outs from courses not seen in other states such as CPR, and personal safety and assault prevention. The procedural process is uniform with 31 states specifically requiring a written parent note in their opt-out statutes.
“Eighteen states give authority to the local education agency to develop the procedure for curriculum opt-outs.
“Texas may have the most permissive curriculum opt-out statute in the U.S. Since the adoption of the statute in 1995, there has been no published litigation over opt-outs in Texas. The conclusion can be made that the implementation of the statute has not been a problem for Texas public schools. In fact, having such a permissive law may actually be helpful to school authorities when they are confronted by parents objecting to some curricular element, whether sex education, evolution, HIV/AIDS instruction, animal dissection, the celebration of Halloween, etc.
“In my opinion,” writes Rogers, “as a Texas administrator for the past 13 years, opt-out and opt-in statutes are extremely helpful from a policy standpoint. Parents are a critical part of the educational process, and it is important, within limits, to value their input into curricular decisions in public schools, or in other words, to be parent-friendly.”
“Clearly, the strategic development of opt-out statutes and regulations by state legislatures and state education departments must maintain the integrity of curricular requirements while balancing the sincere beliefs of parents with religious or moral objections.
“The ultimate motivation of public educators is to serve the public good, ensuring the product they offer is of the highest quality and providing that product to as many children as possible within constitutional constraints from individual states.”
“Most educators genuinely work for the best interests of their students and community. Parents, more than anyone else, have a sincere, vested interest in the education of their children. Both public school administrators and parents must work together to maintain a beneficial balance to sustain a democratic society. I conclude that curriculum opt-outs, within reasonable limits, provide benefits for both educators and parents.”
“A recent plan by President Obama to address students nationwide via the Internet energized the debate over what rights parents have once their children enter a public school setting,” noted Rogers. “Airing the speech to school children created great opposition among some parents across the United States.
“The uproar over the speech was widespread, but in many states where school districts were under pressure from parents, plans were developed to let parents opt-out their children from viewing the speech.
“Some public school districts refused to allow students to watch the speech, while others welcomed the opportunity for students to hear the president.
“Independence, Missouri’s school district superintendent Jim Hinson received ‘more calls than we’ve ever had on an issue,’” reported Rogers. “Hinson confirmed that the speech would not be shown in elementary schools, but individual teachers in upper grade levels could decide whether students should hear President Obama’s speech.”
In Florida, “Sarasota County School District administrators gave permission for teachers to show the speech if it fit into the curriculum, but allowed parents to decide whether to opt-out their children.
“Wellesley, Massachusetts superintendent Bella Wong allowed teachers to make decisions on a class-by-class basis.
“In Arizona, multiple options were used by school districts’ officials. For Mesa’s public schools, parents could opt-out for their children only if they contacted the school first, the same policy used for other situations in which parents desired to shield their children from a particular part of school curricula. Other Arizona districts, such as Tempe School District and Prescott Unified School District, demonstrated opposite ends of the dilemma.
“Tempe officials required all students to watch the president’s speech with no opt-out provision while Prescott’s officials did not show the speech to any students (Parker, 2009).
“In Texas, Ector and Midland County Independent School District officials allowed the broadcast to be available to all campuses and teachers, but it was not required viewing. The communications officer in Midland Independent School District stated, ‘It’s an educational opportunity and we will make educational opportunities available to our students. We’re not saying everybody has to stop doing what they’re doing though.’”
Nationwide, 26 states now allow parents to opt out of classes without stating a reason. The District of Columbia and 17 states require parents to cite religious or ethical objections before they can pull their child out of class. Seven states have no statutes covering the issue, but three of those – Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota – said that parental rights are traditionally observed.
Will parental rights be the next battleground? As state legislatures and the federal courts appear to be squaring off, it should be interesting to see who wins.
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