If there’s one lesson to be learned from the red sweep in Virginia this week, it’s that politicians, schools boards, and education administrators shouldn’t mess with parents, especially on the well-being of their children. Many more school districts across other states still have to learn this lesson, and to that end, one Wisconsin parent is enlisting the help of attorneys to go after her son’s public school.
On Wednesday, counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) sent a letter to the school district of Kenosha, the scene of violent riots last summer and the site of the ongoing trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, threatening legal action if the Kenosha Unified School District does not allow a concerned parent to observe her son’s class as required by federal law.
It started when the mother of a student at the Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum, a public charter school, became concerned about her son’s dropping grades. According to WILL, the student had reported a bevy of classroom disruptions that contributed to his struggle, including fighting, profanities, racial epithets, and property damage, as well as a new math curriculum that does not involve homework nor a textbook.
In September, the mom decided to take action, figuring the best way to help her son succeed would be to observe and understand his learning environment. She requested access to see his classroom for herself, but both the school district and the school reportedly denied her requests multiple times, giving her inconsistent rationale as to why she couldn’t enter.
For instance, Bill Haithcock, the chief of school leadership for the district, allegedly told the mother that an in-person observation by her would serve “no educational program,” ignoring the school’s charter contract, which says, “Parents are important partners in the educational program at KTEC.” Haithcock reportedly further noted that he didn’t think it was the “best idea right now” to “expos[e] the class to an outside visitor.”
However, as the WILL letter notes, the district’s policies and social media pages indicate that many other types of visitors such as mentors, chaperones, and nonprofits are welcomed.
Other times, the school district allegedly told the mother that as a parent, she was “not connected to the educational curriculum” and that allowing her to visit the classroom would open the floodgates of other parents wanting to observe. WILL hopes Kenosha schools change course and “view parents as partners in the education of children.”
According to federal law signed by the Obama administration in 2015, these denials are illegal, as WILL argues in its letter. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, public schools must have systems in place that involve parents in educational settings, meaning the Kenosha district must have a policy that grants parents the “observation of classroom activities.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg of parents’ rights in their children’s education. They also have a right to access curriculum, see progress reports, engage in communication with staff, schedule yearly parent-teacher conferences, and participate in their kid’s classes.
The Kenosha school district does have policies in place for parent involvement and “classroom visits,” yet it has so far stonewalled this concerned parent.
In response to The Federalist’s request for comment, the Kenosha Unified School District’s Chief Communications Officer Tanya Ruder said, “KUSD is aware of the WILL letter and is working with legal counsel to review the matter at hand.” The Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
WILL said it hopes Kenosha schools change course and “view parents as partners in the education of children.”
“Public school classrooms should not be a ‘black box.’ Parents have the right to know what is being taught in classrooms,” said WILL Deputy Counsel Dan Lennington.
This controversy over whether parents are partners in their children’s education or whether they should be staying out of schools has shown to have remarkable electoral significance this week, especially in the Virginia gubernatorial race. After candidate and former governor Terry McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” and doubled down on keeping parental involvement out of public schools, Republican candidate and parent advocate Glenn Youngkin won the race in the same state President Joe Biden won by 10+ points just one year ago.
“Federal and state laws impose simple and straightforward transparency requirements on public schools such as allowing parents to sit in on classes and the right to view curriculum,” Lennington told The Federalist. “But if public schools continue to treat parents as adversaries by concealing what’s going on inside school buildings, they face the real risk of an electoral backlash, like we just saw in Virginia.”