Republican lawmakers push for parental bill of rights for schools

Parents would have the right to inspect textbooks and other instructional material used in their children’s public school classrooms, under legislation backed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kemp called for a parents’ bill of rights during his State of the State speech in early January. On Wednesday, two lawmakers, Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, and Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, introduced legislation for him to that end.

Kemp said Wednesday the new Georgia legislation is intended to increase transparency and parent involvement in schools.

“At a time when our nation is more divided than ever, we’re leading the fight to ensure parents do not have any barriers which prevent them from playing an active role in their child’s education,” Kemp said in a statement.

House Bill 1178 would guarantee that parents and guardians can review “all instructional materials” in their children’s classrooms. (By law, the state education board determines what falls into that category.) The school principal or district superintendent would have three days to produce the documents, though that can be extended to 30 days in some cases.

Parents could appeal to the local school board and even the state board of education, and schools would have to publish the rights and related procedures on their websites.

“At its core, it is about transparency, access, and promoting an engaged partnership between the parent and educators to the ultimate benefit of the student,” Kemp’s statement said.

The bill of rights was part of Kemp’s messaging on schools that aligned with a national Republican agenda that includes a ban on critical race theory and ways to remove books deemed offensive.

Other Republican-led states have passed or are pursuing similar rights legislation.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed one into law last summer. It requires that parents be informed about their child’s studies and instructional materials while recognizing a right to withdraw them from “objectionable” lessons.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also a Republican, wrote recently that other states should follow. He tapped into parents’ frustration over teachers’ unions and school closures for COVID-19.

“The power over our public schools is held by a select few who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo,” he wrote in an opinion piece in The Miami Herald. “Little to no power is in the hands of the constituents themselves: parents and their schoolchildren.”

Some see such legislation as an attack on freedom. PEN America, a free speech organization, has counted more than 100 bills in more than 30 states that limit what can be taught or scrutinize classrooms in ways the group says would chill free discussion. Some are focused on higher education, but most are written for K-12 schools.

Most of the legislation requires posting curriculum and other classroom details online, the group said. At least one calls for classroom video recordings so parents can monitor for signs of critical race theory.

The intent is a “massive surveillance effort” to make teachers think twice about what they say, potentially crushing the spirit of inquiry, said Jonathan Friedman, a director there.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging teachers to be thoughtful,” he said, “but what I’m concerned about here is it creates a basis for political meddling in schools or parental backlash.”

Staff writer Mark Niesse contributed to this report.