Kansas Weighs Protecting Rights of Children, Families in Education

COMMENTARY Education

Kansas Weighs Protecting Rights of Children, Families in Education

Mar 21st, 2022 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Jonathan Butcher

Will Skillman Fellow in Education

Jonathan is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation.
The Kansas proposal allows parents to “be informed of and inspect” the materials that educators use in the classroom. MoMo Productions / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Special-interest groups don’t want parents to know when a student in Kansas public schools “identifies as” a gender not aligned with his or her biological sex.

State lawmakers are proposing to reinforce the truth that parents have the “right to direct the upbringing, education, care, and mental health of [their] child.”

This is as it should be. School leaders should not be allowed to withhold information from parents about their children.

Special-interest groups don’t want parents to know when a student in Kansas public schools “identifies as” a gender not aligned with his or her biological sex. And school officials are prepared to keep this information from families, even when it involves children who are minors.

Now, Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal to create a parents’ bill of rights, similar to a proposal recently approved by Florida lawmakers.

These parental bills of rights put parents back at the center of intimate questions regarding a child’s mental and physical health. The proposals also empower parents to make decisions as they protect their children from radical, explicit sexual teaching content—along with racially discriminatory material—being used in state public schools.

Those proposals are essential for parents today. In December, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas sent an ominous letter to Kansas’ Olathe School District. The ACLU claimed that district and school officials cannot ask for parental consent before educators use a pronoun that children as young as middle schoolers—children aged 11 or 12, even—choose for themselves.

The ACLU claims that even those young children can identify as a gender different from their biological sex and keep this information from their families. That means that the people closest to those children—their parents and family members—are prevented from helping them evaluate their feelings and emotions, and potentially exposing children to life-altering medical treatments.

School officials in other districts have already decided to keep this information from parents. In the state capital, Topeka, the district adopted just such a policy in 2017. “School personnel,” it says, “should not disclose information that may reveal a student’s transgender status or gender nonconforming presentation to others, including parents.”

Fortunately, state lawmakers are proposing to reinforce the truth that parents have the “right to direct the upbringing, education, care, and mental health of the parent’s child.”

State officials are considering a parental bill of rights that includes not only the right to direct a child’s education, but also to guide a minor child’s moral and religious upbringing.

The proposal includes key provisions being considered in many other states. For example, the Kansas proposal allows parents to “be informed of and inspect” the materials that educators use in the classroom.

That way, parents can talk with their children about controversial topics before, during, and after they complete an assignment. Families can also object to material that is not age-appropriate for children.

Lawmakers in Arizona and South Carolina, to name just two, are considering proposals that would allow parents to know what their children are being taught.

That includes not just ideas related to gender, but also to race and ethnicity as well. Far too frequently, very young children—even students in kindergarten—are being forced to confront radical gender theories and ideas based in critical race theory that claim individuals oppress others based on the color of their skin.

The Kansas proposal contains an important provision stating that no one should be compelled to affirm an idea that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

That strikes at critical race theory’s principle that individuals are to affirm that they are guilty of oppression based not on his or her actions, but only on his or her race or ethnicity. Critical race theorists, in fact, criticize the monumental 1964 Civil Rights Act and say it was only adopted to preserve the power of whites.

Mississippi lawmakers recently approved a proposal that rejects racial discrimination by prohibiting individuals from being forced to profess or act on critical race theory’s bias in K-12 schools.

The Kansas bill combines these elements. It restates the parents’ fundamental right to raise their children. It prevents school officials from hiding information from families. It rejects critical race theory’s noxious racial prejudice. And it requires schools to allow parents to participate with educators on what a child is taught and to control a child’s medical care in school.

Lawmakers in at least a dozen states are considering these sorts of parental bills of rights. Indiana’s Attorney General’s Office has even released a guidebook explaining what rights are important to include and offering policy ideas to protect parental rights over medical and education decisions for their children.

This is as it should be. School leaders should not be allowed to withhold information from parents about their children. State lawmakers must make sure public officials are not displacing families as the primary caregivers and decision-makers in a child’s life.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal