Some still optimistic despite failure of Parental Freedom in Education Act

Lawmakers, officials push for greater education access for parents
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 11:21 AM MST
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BOISE Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Some lawmakers and a candidate for Idaho state superintendent want parents to have more access to their children’s quality of education, but others think the proposed legislation goes too far.

The Parental Freedom in Education Act was presented to the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday and died the same day. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Christy Zito and presented by Branden Durst, who is a candidate for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction. Durst who is also a former Idaho lawmaker said the proposed legislation represented the frustrations he has heard from parents and grandparents over the past year.

“They feel like they are locked out of the education system and don’t have the authority over their children’s lives once they get onto school,” Durst said.

Some key provisions of the act included the parental authority to inspect curriculum, lesson plans, textbooks, and anything else related to the education of their child, and the ability to withdraw their child from any course or course material for any reason. Durst said what he and others are talking about with the provisions is if someone’s child is being introduced to content material that was objectionable to the parent. The parent would have the ability to remove the child from that assignment and have an alternate assignment addressed, so they can get the content they need to pass the course.

“We are talking about when your daughter goes into sex education class or health class, and they covering some Sex Ed. talk that you are not ready for your son or daughter to talk about. These are rare occurrences,” Durst said. “We are not talking about every day or my child is not going to learn math because of x, y z.”

Committee member Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking said she had several issues with the act. One was that school districts do allow parents to have their children not do a specific unit or assignment if they feel strongly about it, but it is usually up to the parents to design an alternative assessment or program, but under the provisions of the act it would be all on the districts, and that could be overwhelming for a teacher if he or she had to design 30 different lesson plans.

“It also said that any parent could come in and look at any lesson plan, the curriculum, the syllabus, and all of that, and we do that, " said Ward-Engelking. “But this even opened up to a parent could see all of a teacher’s notes.”

Another provision in the act gave parents the authority to access their child’s classroom during instructional hours, unannounced and without prior request. Durst said he has had conversations with parents who have said they were not allowed to enter children’s classrooms because they did not ask for permission. Some districts require 24-hour notice.

“It wasn’t because the students were taking a test or anything else was going on. They just were not allowed to go into their kid’s classrooms.”

The last provision related to masks and vaccines. Durst and some parents object to school districts requiring students to wear masks or pressuring students into wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. He and others feel those decisions should be left up to the parents.

“There are several school districts throughout the State of Idaho that are still requiring masks,” Durst said.

Ward-Engelkind said she understands parents’ frustration, and she feels a lot of it is being fueled by the pandemic. She believes there are some instances where the districts have said, ‘we want to keep this classroom pretty tight and safe,’ and if you let “30 parents in” that’s a lot more bodies.

“I don’t think there is a problem but there might be a perceived problem. It might be fanned by a certain group trying to make it look like parents are not allowed,” said Ward-Engelking. “I think a little bit of that is due to the pandemic and trying to limit the number of bodies in a classroom but that is not something that is going to be forever.”

The proposed legislation was killed in committee on a 4-4 vote, and Ward-Engelkind said some of the members didn’t like the adversarial tone of the legislation and the fact that school districts could be fined up to $1,000 per offense for violating the provisions of the bill.

“We have never fined the school districts we try to work with them,” Ward-Engelking said.

However, Durst said so often on policy lawmakers don’t create an enforcement mechanism that needs to be there so laws are more than words on paper.

“What I am talking about is being able to provide a mechanism to be able to provide parents the right to enforce if their rights are being restricted,” Durst said

Ward-Engelking also said she felt the legislation could hinder schools dealing with teacher shortages.

“Putting something like this in place would not help the situation. It would hinder education for children in Idaho,” Ward-Engelking said.

Durst said he expects to see legislation similar to his presented during the legislative session, and Ward-Engleking said if something similar is presented to her committee she wants to see something involving the Education Association, School Board Association, and the Administrators Association.

“There is nothing wrong with bringing in new ideas and bills forwarded but let’s make sure they are going to benefit children,” Ward-Engelking said.

However, Durst said he is still optimistic something will be presented this legislative session that both chambers will be able to be discussed.

“The vast majority of parents and grandparents believe what I was trying to do are the right things for Idaho kids and their families,” said Durst. “Sometimes it takes time. that’s the legislative process. it’s frustrating.”

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