School culture wars fuel top House GOP bill
House Republicans reintroduced a parental rights in education bill that nods to culture war issues in schools that have fueled enthusiasm on the right over the last few years.
Designated by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as H.R. 5 in this Congress, the Parents’ Bill of Rights legislation would require school districts to post curriculum publicly, offer in-person meetings with parents and notify parents of any instances of violence or assault at the school, among other measures.
“The pandemic brought to light for a lot of us moms and dads for the first time ever, we sat down and we saw what our children were being taught through the virtual classroom. And when we saw that, so many of us were disheartened with what we were viewing,” said lead bill sponsor Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) “Then we did the right thing, right? We went to our school boards and we voiced our displeasure. But we were turned away.”
The legislation was first introduced in November 2021 as education became a hot-button culture wars issue fueled by protests at school board meetings over COVID-19 restrictions, curriculum and books concerning gender and sexuality, and diversity and inclusion measures.
Some of those parents with such concerns were present at a forum in the Capitol for introduction of the bill on Wednesday.
One of those was Fairfax County, Va., parent Amelia McAllister, who said that her young daughter was suspended 11 times for refusing to wear a mask after Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) signed an executive order to allow parents to opt-out of mask mandates.
“Your perseverance — what it really tells me is I’m probably going to be voting for you one day,” McCarthy told the young girl.
Also in attendance was Scott Smith, whose daughter was sexually assaulted at her school in a case that led to a political firestorm. Smith was arrested at a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Va., in 2021 for disorderly conduct. A teenage classmate was found responsible of assault.
“I watched you on TV that day, and I want you to know that every parent in America stood with you,” McCarthy told Smith.
Rep. Erin Houchin (R-Ind.) assured Smith that the proposed legislation would require notification of any violent activity at the school.
Another parent, Nicole Solas of Rhode Island, told her story of being told to file public records requests for information about gender theory in her child’s curriculum and the school board then debating whether they should take legal action over her hundreds of public records requests. Later, the National Education Association named Solas among others in a lawsuit seeking to prevent some materials it said violated teachers’ privacy rights from being released.
“I wouldn’t believe that was even true in America if you didn’t stand up and tell me,” McCarthy said. “You are the exact reason why we want the Parents’ Bill of Rights.”
House Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), House GOP Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and Rep. Aaron Bean (R-Fla.) were also present for the forum in front of many parents and their school-aged children.
McCarthy repeatedly pledged during the 2022 campaign cycle to pass the Parents’ Bill of Rights if Republicans won control of the House. The bill, though, would be unlikely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
House Republicans have also started probes into the Department of Justice for what they say have been an “anti-parent directive” from Attorney General Merrick Garland that encouraged coordination between the FBI and local law enforcement to determine how to respond to a spike in harassment and threats of violence against school board members.
Parental power in education has already become an issue in the 2024 election cycle.
Former President Trump in a January campaign video called for a system where parents could vote to fire school principals and replace them with someone else.
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