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Testimony: House Committee on Public Education July 26, 2022

The testimony below was submitted to the Texas House Committee on Public Education on July 26th, 2022, by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI).


Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute

House Committee on Public Education

July 26, 2022


Regarding the Committee Interim Charges 1 & 3

Charge 1. Identify and examine efforts to ensure that parents have a meaningful role in their children’s education. Recommend necessary changes in both independent school district board and open enrollment charter governing board governance to protect the right of parents to participate in their child’s education.

Charge 3. Monitor and analyze the state policy on curriculum and instructional materials used in public schools.

 

Introduction


The Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI) takes great interest in today’s charges, which touch on the fundamentally important topics of parental rights and involvement, and transparency. TCCRI’s view is that Charge 1 and Charge 3 are closely related, so they will be combined in the commentary for this testimony.


Increased Parental Awareness and Involvement


It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in greater parental involvement in learning. Simple acts like parents reading to their children increased during the pandemic, according to the United States Census Bureau. This greater involvement logically extended to schooling. Indeed, in many cases, parents effectively acted as instructors, overseeing their children-students as they participated in zoom classes and online instruction. Many parents, who for years had trusted the institution that is the public school system, were exposed to instructional materials and teaching methods. In many cases, that exposure triggered a much greater interest in the public education system writ large.


Polling across the board on a variety of questions supports this narrative. For example, nearly six in ten (56%) of respondents in a January 2022 national poll of K-12 public school parents took the view that “Schools should be focused on rethinking how we educate students, coming up with new ways to teach children moving forward as a result of COVID-19.”


As parents became more directly involved in public education, they became more active in the policy decisions surrounding public education. Many parents opposed mandatory masking as students returned to school. Many parents supported masks in schools. Strong feelings about these issues played out in heated school board meetings across the country.

Within this climate of increased parental involvement and elevated willingness to engage policymakers, parents across the country began to notice elements of curricula, educational materials, and teaching methods that, until the pandemic, they were unaware of.


Critical race theory and the teachings of “antiracism,” for example, are ubiquitous in classrooms across the country. Parents, many of whom believe in equality before the law, that the constitution is colorblind, and that discrimination based on race is abhorrent, have been shocked to learn that their children are being taught that such beliefs are now racist themselves. Indeed, experts in this field teach that “Race and racism are basically baked into everything we do in our society. It’s embedded in our institutions. It’s embedded in our minds and hearts.” And parents across the country are finding out that the only way to remedy this racism is to eliminate programs that promote merit instead of “equity.” New York City, for example, abolished its Gifted and Talented program, a move unpopular with parents, both Republican and Democrat.


In Texas, the legislature passed House Bill 3979 in an attempt to prevent small children from being taught that they are inherently racist based on their skin color, but schools continue to find a way around these obstacles. In March of this year, an elementary school in San Antonio gave small children a crash course in critical race theory by segregating them based on their hair color and having them role play discriminators and discriminatees. According to reports:


[S]tudents with light-colored hair were told by their teacher that they were not as intelligent as their dark-haired counterparts. The light-haired students were also given games to play that had missing pieces so they were unable to play and were instructed to clean up after the dark-haired students.


Fifth graders were sent home crying after the “lesson.”


Parents are also becoming aware of aggressive indoctrination on gender and gender identity in young children. Austin ISD, for example, celebrated pride week this year and offered students as young as five years old “Pride and Ally stickers, posters, flags, pronoun buttons and more.” To be sure, many parents are happy to support pride week, but not everyone. Many parents would prefer to have conversations about sex and gender outside of the school, particularly with younger children. Not only did Austin ISD violate that parental right, it encouraged students to hide their discussions from their own parents, as evidenced by Doss Elementary school documents leaked online:



Parents were justifiably outraged by Austin ISD’s apparent lack of concern for parental rights, and it added to an increasing sense that public schools have become far more concerned with promoting preferred social issues from one side of the political spectrum than they are with educating children. Parents have taken notice.


Parents are Supreme


When parents began attending school board meetings across the country to express their justified concerns, they were not met with openness and respect from those in power who hold different views. Examples are ubiquitous and appalling. On the narrow end, parents allege to have been personally attacked, doxed online, and harassment at the encouragement of public school officials. On a broader scale, the National Association of School Boards, which represents approximately 90,000 school officials and administrators, requested that the Biden Administration investigate parents who had the temerity to speak with conviction at school board meetings. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland responded with a memo to federal law enforcement agencies that these parents were to be investigated as domestic terrorists.


In addition to the general disdain for concerned parents across the country, public officials moved to assert that parents do not have a legitimate role to play in their children’s educations. Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe asserted that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” At the 2022 Teacher of the Year ceremony at the White House, President Biden asserted that children don’t belong to parents “when they’re in the classroom.”


Children belong to their parents at all times. Parents have a right to know what is happening in schools at all times. There is no greater authority over children than their parents. If public policy does not reflect that supremacy, then public policy needs to change.


Conclusion and Policy Recommendations


The issues discussed in this testimony are highly divisive, with a broad range of opinions. Many parents, no doubt, take no issue with what is happening in public schools, but for those who do, it is their right as parents to be informed and to have the information at their disposal that empowers them to engage.


Adopt Legislation Codifying Governor Abbott’s Parental Bill of Rights


Governor Abbott’s Parental Bill of Rights is an appropriate starting point. The overarching theme is that “parents are the primary decisionmakers” and their decisions “cannot be overridden without due process of law.” It requires expansion of parental rights to include easier access to all instructional materials used in the classroom, including online access. It requires establishment of an expedited grievance procedure so that parental concerns are addressed quickly and respectfully. It expressly prohibits pornographic material in school libraries, with consequences being loss of educational credentials, state licensing, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and placement on the do not hire list. It requires that parents be notified of the availability of charter schools, magnet schools, and schools in other districts. It also protects the privacy of children by prohibiting schools from collecting unnecessary personal data.


Pass the Parental Rights in Education Bill


Broadly misrepresented in the media, Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill (HB 1557) signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in March places authority over a broad range of parental responsibilities back where it belongs, with the parents. Specifically, the bill requires schools to notify parents if they become aware of changes in the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health unless a belief exists that such disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect. It prohibits “classroom instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.