Parental education rights movement still going strong

(The Center Square) – Amid parental concerns, heated school board meetings, and legal battles, Pennsylvania joins the list of other states drafting parental rights legislation.

Republicans in both…

(The Center Square) – Amid parental concerns, heated school board meetings, and legal battles, Pennsylvania joins the list of other states drafting parental rights legislation.

Republicans in both chambers say they want to uphold the right of families to make decisions about their children’s education. To that end, they have introduced five bills covering a range of issues that include age-appropriate materials and instruction, curriculum transparency, and the right to seek legal remedy.

Rep. Marla Brown, R-New Castle, told The Center Square she and her colleagues “have stone-walled the former administration’s policies that attempted to remove parental rights from the classroom” – and she will remain diligent in ensuring parents have a direct say in their child’s education.

“When it comes to raising their children, parents need to be making the decisions, not the government,” she said.

Brown’s bill, House Bill 932 – and its companion, Senate Bill 444, sponsored by Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Chambersburg – clarify that the state or any of its political subdivisions, which includes school districts, cannot infringe upon the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education, health care, mental health, and upbringing of their children.

Both bills also state that rights granted would not authorize a parent or guardian to engage in conduct that is unlawful – or to abuse or neglect their child.

“It is time to give power back to the parents,” Brown said.

Legislative Democrats remain skeptical and insist, however, the bills do just the opposite – particularly for students who feel unsafe revealing sensitive information about their gender identity, sexuality, or mental health conditions to their families.

It’s the crux of the issue for Republicans, however, who say district policies to explore complex social and political issues with students cross the line. Those conversations, they say, should be at the discretion of parents.

Mastriano said his bill would provide parents with legal protection “when overreaching bureaucrats attempt to overrule their voice.” He said similar provisions already exist in 15 other states.

Senate Bill 7, introduced by Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, focuses on sexually explicit content in schools. Information posted to his website says parents have contacted him with concerns, and he stresses the proposal “is NOT a book ban.”

The bill proposes identifying sexually explicit content in schools and creating an opt-in policy to notify parents of such content, give them the opportunity to review it, and require their direct consent. Should the parent decide not to opt-in, alternative content would be provided to the child.

Aument said children can be taught to be kind, understanding, and appreciate differences in others without exposing them to “problematic sexually explicit content.” The bill “would not impact the foundation and core function of anti-bullying curriculum in Pennsylvania schools,” he added.

Mastriano’s second bill – SB 340 – centers on transparency and would require schools to post a textbook list, course syllabus, and state academic standards for courses on their website. Mastriano said he has heard from many parents “who have no idea what is being taught until they see their children’s homework,” and this would provide them with the tools they need to be informed.

Critics argue the proposal creates more burdens for teachers at a time when stress, burnout and staffing shortages are at an all-time high.

House Bill 319 was re-introduced by Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Lock Haven, after it failed to pass last session that would require age-appropriate classroom instruction and prohibit lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-5. Public schools would be required to notify parents about changes in school services regarding a child’s mental, emotional, or physical health, or well-being, and it would establish a cause of action for violation.

Mastriano noted in his press release that the Pennsylvania Department of Education website had included “lesson plans for teachers to discuss differences between assigned gender, binary gender, and biological sex.”

Gender-neutral pronouns such as “ne, ve, ze/zie and xe” were introduced and teachers were advised to ask students which pronouns they prefer. He said the page has since been deleted after outcry from concerned parents.

Such proposals face uphill battles, however, as House Democrats – newly in control of the legislative calendar – remain opposed. Republican efforts last year to adopt similar bills were met with accusations of LGTBQ discrimination, censorship, and authoritarianism – and the sentiment hasn’t changed much since.