A short, essential guide to parents’ rights in schools

As confidence in public schools falls near all-time lows, parents should know their rights, especially when negotiating with school staff to address any challenges. 

Consider this quick list of…

As confidence in public schools falls near all-time lows, parents should know their rights, especially when negotiating with school staff to address any challenges. 

Consider this quick list of resources and items to remember when preparing to press your case: 

1. Know your state’s laws, including those pertaining to parental rights.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has passed multiple rulings in favor of parents over the years, many states also have laws that uphold these fundamental liberties. 

Parents should take the time to research the legal protections that apply to their specific situation, often including the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech. 

For example, the state of Kansas recognizes “the fundamental right of every parent to control the care and custody of such parent’s minor children” in KS Stat § 60-5305 (2021). 

This includes “control over education, discipline, religious and moral instruction, health, medical care, welfare, place of habitation, counseling and psychological and emotional well-being.” 

Knowing and citing your state’s laws can help make a difference when presenting individual cases before school staff and administrators. 

Additionally, multiple studies have demonstrated how parental engagement can improve student academic performance, social skills and graduation rates. Parents should exercise their discretion and not just leave all the decision-making to educators. 

For example, some studies suggest state-run pre-K academic programs may cause more long-term harm than good for participants, so parents may want to opt out of such programs, even when they’re subsidized.

2. Underscore any special needs your child has when discussing IEPs and other accommodations.

Recently Olathe, Kansas mom Amanda Thompson removed her children from a public school after a lackluster response to her concerns that it was failing to meet her children’s needs. 

“Our son and oldest daughter are dyslexic and need intervention to help them not only learn but thrive,” she wrote in a statement to The Sentinel. 

Even though her 12-year-old son had been screened for dyslexia and was found to be reading at a 1.5-grade level, his scores weren’t considered “low enough” for the school to intervene. 

“He was frustrated, had confidence and self-esteem issues, and I could see him feeling defeated as his peers progressed,” she wrote. “I wanted better for him. The special education resource teachers and classroom teachers have their hands tied. They can only do what they are allowed to do or trained to do.” 

As a parent, feel free to challenge any assumptions the school may have regarding your student’s academic performance. They may need an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, to help them learn more efficiently. 

Even so-called “average” scores may disguise a widening gap in achievement. According to Kansas Department of Education data, the number of Kansas high school students below grade level now outnumber those who are proficient.

3. Consider Open Records requests when reviewing specific content or policies.

An increasing number of parents around the country are challenging schools over questionable content or policies that favor one group over another, or discriminate against their values. 

For example, Georgia substitute teacher Lindsey Barr was fired after she shared her concerns over a picture book that was read aloud to elementary students. The book showed illustrations of same-sex couples parenting and expecting children. Barr is now suing the school district, saying her First Amendment rights were violated. 

If you are having difficulty accessing your school’s course content or curriculum, consider submitting an open records request. All U.S. citizens have the right to submit these under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as many states’ laws. The Heritage Action for America has a six-step guide for submitting these requests, along with a customizable follow-up template letter. 

4. Join online/in-person parenting groups.

Parents have found ways to connect with other like-minded families through groups that meet online or in person. In these groups, parents can share common concerns or compare notes on classes that do not match their family values. 

For example, parents in Washington State joined an online group after they found their son’s U.S. History class was based on Critical Race Theory. The mom said in an interview with talk show host Jason Rantz that her son was “totally duped” into taking the class. 

“I worry about other parents who didn’t do the research that I did to get a real-life understanding of what ‘U.S. history’ class they’re taking,” she said. 

One parenting group, Moms for Liberty, has created area chapters where families can discuss these issues without the bullying and censorship that sometimes occur on social media.

5. Seek legal help if necessary.

Sandra Hernden, a police officer in Michigan, found that her children struggled with remote-instruction policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of her children is classified as having special needs. 

After she shared her concerns, one of the school board members reported Hernden to her employer, claiming her behavior was “unbecoming of a police officer.” The police department investigated and concluded that Hernden had not violated any of its rules. 

Today Hernden is suing her school district for what she says was a violation of her First Amendment rights. 

“For two years, I have been demoralized, humiliated, discredited and demeaned,” Hernden said in a statement. “I can live with a lot of things and be called a lot of names, but none of this will stop me from fighting for my children. I’m bringing this case not just for my family, but for all the families like me who feel they have no voice.” 

Two organizations that can help provide legal advocacy for parents are the Mackinac Foundation Legal Center and Alliance Defending Freedom. 

Ultimately, parents have the right to withdraw their children from school at any time during the year if they remain unsatisfied with their children’s quality of education.  

By researching options ahead of time, families can gain a greater measure of confidence in negotiating with schools for an outcome that best meets their children’s needs.