Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial win in Virginia sent a clear message to government bureaucrats: treat parents with more respect. Parents are paramount to their kids’ welfare and education, and they have a right to be angry when treated otherwise. Yet parents should also reflect on how we got here and consider how they share at least some of the blame.
For decades, public schools have encroached on some basic parental responsibilities — from feeding kids to health care to helping with homework. Is it any wonder school officials view themselves as the leading authorities on your children?
Consider that, today, a huge number of kids are dropped off at schools before the classes even begin, as early as 6:30 a.m. Kids are watched and fed a simple breakfast. This program, known as “before care,” allows parents to head to work early, which may be necessary for parents who work an early shift. Yet it’s also used by parents who want an early start to the day and a hassle- and kid-free morning.
Many parents also seem happy to let schools feed their kids. The school lunch program, originally designed to help low-income families, is now feeding any child, regardless of need. In fact, according to the School Lunch Association, 7.7 million students paid full price for a school lunch in 2019, meaning the child’s family did not qualify for a reduced or free school lunch.
The full price for a school lunch varies but it averages at about $2.48 for elementary school and $2.74 for high school. Even with rising inflation, that’s enough to make a simple meal for a child. Yet so many parents who could easily do this themselves instead opt to let the school feed their kids because it’s convenient.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also funds weekend, holiday, and summer meal programs. This is on top of the generous food assistance that’s already provided to needy families through various programs. During the COVID shutdown of schools, even wealthy moms partook of these free food giveaways, since the USDA waived all requirements to show enrollment in the school meal program.
Working late? No sweat! Like the “before care” program, most schools now offer “after care” programs so that parents can work late. Participating students are typically assisted with their homework and fed. Not having to do homework with your kid sounds nice, but it also robs parents of knowing what is being taught and how their kid is doing with his or her schoolwork.
Students are even able to seek medical treatment without their parents’ consent. In Alexandria, Virginia, the high school’s “Teen Wellness Center” will alert parents if a child is seen for a cold, acne, or a few other minor illnesses. But parents are not informed if their child is there for a pregnancy test, diagnosis, and treatment of a sexually transmitted disease (including HIV), a prescription for birth control, “behavior change counseling,” mental health counseling, or substance abuse counseling. These services are all offered free of charge, so at no point would a student need to inform a parent.
Those who advocate for keeping children’s medical care private from parents often cite concerns about abuse arising from a parent finding out about their child’s sexual activity or its consequences. Yet school officials seem less concerned about the harms that could result from letting a child navigate these traumatic and potentially life-altering health conditions without assistance from their parents.
As for discipline, parents rarely have a place at the table. While schools used to be willing to contact parents, share information, and work as partners in setting kids on a better path, today, restorative justice programs cut out parents (and law enforcement), and reduce discipline to a performative joke.
If parents want to be respected by school officials, they need to stop ceding parenting basics to others. By placing these duties in the hands of teachers and school officials, parents have weakened their case that they are the primary caregivers for their children. I’m glad parents are fighting for their rights, but they should never have given up so much authority over their children’s upbringing in the first place.