(Daily Caller News Foundation) – California parental rights advocates are sounding the alarm as a bill targeting parents who speak out at school board meetings continues to advance through the state’s legislature.
Senate Bill 596, which would make it a misdemeanor for “any parent, guardian or other person” to disrupt classwork, extracurricular activities or cause any “substantial disorder” at any public or charter school board meeting and state board of education meeting, is poised to pass both the California Senate and House. The bill will silence as well as criminalize parents and in the process, harm children, California parental rights advocates told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“SB 596 is another example of attacks on parental rights and community engagement by Sacramento’s one-party political establishment,” Wenyuan Wu, executive director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, a parental rights group, told the DCNF. “Criminalizing contest and dissent in local school districts manufactures false accusations of disorderly conduct when concerned parents exercise their constitutional rights and speak up against woke indoctrination. This bill is shamelessly intended to target, intimidate and smear parents and local community members advocating for better education, transparency and accountability.”
“The education bureaucracy, including the California Teachers Association, has a political agenda to indoctrinate our children and demonize parents. As such, they have no problem endorsing this bill.”
Under SB 596, any adult who causes “substantial emotional distress” or “torments” a school employee, such as a school board member, can be fined up to $1,000 or serve no more than one year in jail.
In February, Democratic California state Sen. Anthony Portantino introduced the legislation in an effort to address “the issue of teachers facing harassment and greater scrutiny over lessons taught in the classroom,” according to a press release. The bill aims to protect school employees who are facing backlash for teaching about gender identity, sexual orientation and Pride month, Portantio’s press release states.
One Portantino press release includes an example of such behavior the bill is trying to prevent noting that during the 2021-2022 school year, a local elementary school employee was transferred to a different school after they received threats for discussing LGBTQ Pride Month.
“It is concerning when some people feel it is appropriate to harass and intimidate others for simply doing their job under the law,” Portantino told the DCNF. “SB 596 seeks to ensure that educators can safely be on their own time while in public. It is important to note that this bill does not infringe or affect a parent’s ability to interact with their school district, protest peacefully, or strongly advocate on behalf of their children. It saddens me that there are people spreading false information. The bill explicitly exempts out all forms of protected free speech as the following passage from the bill states: Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of credible threat.”
“Certainly, most Americans are tired of the angry, divisive rhetoric dominating much of the political discourse today,” Portantino said to the DCNF. “And, most Americans believe in civil conversations and actions that have the potential to lead to a more fruitful and productive outcome than threats and harassment.”
SB 596 is comparable to another piece of legislation, AB 1078, which would require school boards to have a supermajority if they wish to restrict a book from its library or classrooms, Sonja Shaw, Chino Valley Unified School Board member Sonja Shaw told the DCNF.
“SB 596 is another attempt to silence parents just as AB 1078 is to silence board members and prohibit local control,” Shaw told the DCNF. “This is another ploy to allow the government to bully and silence us. As a day-to-day soccer mom, I had to start following bills a few years ago and they craft and amend these things making them more dangerous by taking away the voice of the community.”
The legislation ultimately harms students because it keeps parents from voicing their concern against what their children are being taught, Mari Barke, California Policy Center’s director of local elected officials, told the DCNF.
“Like so many education bills going through the Legislature right now, SB 596 ultimately hurts students. The parents are being targeted but the damage is to the child or student,” Barke told the DCNF. “SB 596 is attempting to silence free speech and could be used against parents very arbitrarily if they question or vocalize concern or opposition to offensive or divisive curricula, content or behavior. We should not be silencing parents, they must be free to express their thoughts and concerns since they are their child’s best advocate. Shutting down dialogue by threatening members of the community with fines and jail time doesn’t benefit students or education as a whole.”
Across the country, tension at school board meetings has risen as parents continue to push back against curriculums detailing gender identity and sexual orientation; in June, at least three people were arrested after a fight broke out at a California school board meeting which was discussing whether LGBTQ lessons should be included in the district’s curriculum. Two were arrested at a Virginia school board meeting in July while a policy was being debated that would require students to use the bathroom on the basis of biological sex rather than gender identity.
“When you see a pattern of policy changes following public comments that bring awareness to district business and union politics, one can be led to believe SB 596 is a flagrant attack on parental rights,” Lenice Sechrist, president of Poway Unified School District Community Watch, an organization focused on parental rights, told the DCNF. “If enacted, this bill will surely be used to set ‘examples’ out of parents who speak on issues that concern their children. It appears the strategy is that if First Amendment rights cannot be infringed upon, fear tactics will be used in order to censor parents.”