Republicans’ so-called ‘Parents Bill of Rights’ is cover for racism, homophobia, and censorship
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, center, with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., left, and Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La., speaks about proposed legislation dubbed the 'Parents Bill of Rights,' March 1, 2023, on Capitol Hill. | Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Several of the nation’s largest unions, led by the Teachers (AFT), teamed up the week of March 22 to try to defeat the House’s ruling Republicans and their so-called “Parents Bill of Rights” bill.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved it March 8 after a long work session with almost all Democratic-offered amendments rejected on party-line votes. The full House was scheduled to consider it on the evening of March 23.

Despite its name, the measure (HR5) is a Republican “messaging” bill by panel chair Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., a hater of unions, including teachers’ unions.

Foxx offered HR5 to support “parents” who invade and disrupt school board meetings in the name of their “right” to ban the teaching of what they consider off-limits subjects, such as civil rights and Black history.

Right-wingers, egged on by Breitbart and talk show hosts, charge schools, teachers, and unions with indoctrinating kids. Though Foxx didn’t say so, her measure is designed to protect those “parents.” Instead, she aimed at two favorite far-right targets, unions and “bureaucrats.”

“The education bureaucracy should no longer be allowed to censor mom’s and dad’s important voices. We heard their calls to reopen schools and make their children’s well-being a priority during the lockdown. The government should have listened,” said Foxx at the panel’s March 8 work session. Like other Republicans, Foxx now opposes fighting the coronavirus.

“Perhaps the only silver lining of these past three years is America now realizes parents will always put their children’s interests first. And the teachers unions that fought to prolong the lockdowns will not.”

Parents “God-given right to make decisions for their children has been ignored, and at times, attacked.” Foxx wrapped herself and the “parents” in the Constitution’s free speech guarantees, too.

AFT and its allies say who really need protection are teachers and their right to teach and promote discussion and students’ right to learn. “We need parent and family engagement. Frankly, it’s good news that Republicans are thinking about strengthening parents’ involvement in schools,” AFT President Randi Weingarten’s letter to members and parents began.

“But we must do it right; we can’t pair this parent engagement with measures that will hurt kids, make it easier to censor education, and heap unnecessary burdens on educators’ already overflowing plates. We must listen when teachers and parents tell us what will actually help.”

Measures that will hurt kids is what Foxx’s HR5 accomplishes, Weingarten’s letter says. It wants people to urge lawmakers to oppose it and back a substitute “Bill of Rights for Students and Parents” from Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., instead.

“HR5 asks schools to divert resources from teaching kids and opens avenues for bad actors to censor education, ban books and harm children who are just trying to be who they are,” Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, wrote. One Republican amendment would apply HR5 only to public schools. Even religious schools getting public money would be exempt.

“Why not adopt the Bonamici substitute?” Weingarten asked.  It “prohibits book bans, calls for parent coordinators, increases funding for family engagement centers and community schools and prohibits federal extremists from censoring teaching” of Black, Latino, Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian, Pacific-Islander, and LGBTQIA+ history, along with “women’s history, Native-American history, and history of the Holocaust or anti-Semitism.”

The nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, agrees with AFT. So do the Service Employees, though it issued no statement. NEA did not specifically oppose Foxx’s bill, yet, but President Becky Pringle has blasted the entire Republican anti-education agenda.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., “is ignoring the needs of our students, as well as the wishes of the vast majority of parents, to appease right-wing billionaires like Betsy DeVos”–a GOP big giver and Donald Trump’s anti-union Education Secretary–“who want to drag their political games into our school buildings,” Philadelphia science teacher Pringle said.

“McCarthy would rather seek to stoke racial and social division and distract us from what will really help our students thrive: An inspiring, inclusive, and age-appropriate curriculum that prepares each and every one of them for their future,” Pringle added.

“Parents and voters agree elected leaders should be focused on getting students the individualized support they need, keeping guns out of schools, and addressing educator shortages. Sadly, McCarthy would rather empower politicians who want to ban books and drive passionate educators out of the profession, instead of doing what is right for our students and public schools,” she concluded.

Bonamici’s substitute lost in the committee on a party-line vote. It would replace Foxx’s measure with a “sense of Congress that parents have access to public schools.”

“Parental involvement is critical to developing and sustaining high-quality public schools. We must do all we can to involve parents and break down barriers that prevent or discourage participation,” said Bonamici, a parent, PTA member, and school activist before becoming an Oregon legislator.

“Language translation, child care, and flexible hours and video options for conferencing can all make a positive difference. We must speak out against and end the attacks on public education jeopardizing these essential relationships and threatening to make schools a less welcoming place for Black students and other students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQI+ students, and other marginalized students.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.