MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Wisconsin could be the next in line to adopt a “parent bill of rights,” a bill that passed the state Assembly in February, the Senate last week, and is now sitting on Gov. Tony Evers’s desk. Wisconsin is among a group of states including Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, and Georgia that have either passed or teased similar legislation, along with the U.S. Senate.
Legislators in every state should listen to the specific experiences of parents like us and allow their own bills of rights to reflect those challenges.
Wisconsin’s parent bill of rights establishes a statutory legal right for parents to direct their child’s education and a legal framework to hold schools accountable to this law. Among the rights enumerated in the bill are the right to review and receive access to educational materials, the right to be notified about and opt out of certain educational topics, the right to choose the name and pronouns one’s child goes by at school, the right to determine the child’s medical care, and the rights to be notified about school safety concerns and student surveys.
School Encouraged Daughter to Change Pronouns Behind Parents’ Backs
Here in Wisconsin, our bill is responding to several particular cases. For instance, two sets of parents are currently suing the Kettle Moraine School District for allowing and even encouraging the daughter of one of the sets of parents to go by a different name and pronouns at school without notifying her parents.
When the parents made known that it was their desire — and what they saw to be most beneficial for their daughter, who was struggling with mental health — to continue calling her by her female name and pronouns, the school said that they would conduct themselves according to the daughter’s wishes even if hers contradicted those of her parents. This overstep by the district endangers the mental health of a child. We saw a similar story erupt in the news earlier this month about a policy in the Eau Claire Area School District that trained teachers to keep a student’s gender “transition” from students’ parents.
Our parent bill of rights also addresses access to classroom materials. Recent research by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) shows that political agendas in the classroom are pervasive and it can be expensive to access materials through open records requests.
For instance, Madison Metropolitan School District requested $5,000 from WILL to fulfill their public records requests. That’s expensive for an institution, let alone a parent. Barriers to information, such as this financial burden, should not exist. All government institutions’ materials should be available online for parents and taxpayers alike.
Giving Kids Access to Sexually Explicit Material
In the school district that my (Emily’s) kids attend, Elmbrook Schools, we have experienced a number of instances involving sexually explicit material. We had a teacher in our district who conducted a sex survey in a 10th-grade health class that asked students questions such as whether they have been under the influence during sexual intercourse and how many sexual partners they have had. This is highly confidential information.
We also have had sexually explicit books available on our students’ Chromebooks through the online library giving the pros and cons of sex apps and how to use them, graphic instructions on sex acts, and illustrations on masturbation. WILL sent a demand letter to the district and parents have petitioned the district to remove the material. The school district claimed the books were removed, but as The Federalist’s Jordan Boyd pointed out, Superintendent Mark Hansen “did not give an answer concerning what age he believes children should begin learning about how to perform sexual acts as depicted in the books.”
Again at Elmbrook Schools, another mother reported that students as young as kindergarten were able to access explicit material from their iPads in fall 2021 because the district did not have the proper filter on the devices until November. There are some reports from parents that even with the filter, explicit pop-ups occur, although nothing happens if the student clicks on them. I have spoken with countless parents who are very concerned by the district’s lack of concern and even defense of this material. It’s absurd that through school kids can access this material that parents would never allow them to see.
If Wisconsin’s parent bill of rights is signed into law, each of these instances would then be in violation of that statute.
Parents Like Us Are Gaining Momentum
While the Covid-19 lockdowns were no doubt a struggle for so many families and individuals, we believe there are always silver linings in life. The peek we as parents got into the classroom due to virtual learning is indeed a silver lining.
Prior to the lockdowns, so many parents like ourselves had no idea what our children were being exposed to in the classroom. It feels like just in the nick of time it came to our attention and we have since risen like mama bears to defend our babies.
We will not tolerate this abuse of power by our school districts or by Wisconsin’s superintendent of schools — the Department of Public Instruction — where much of this teacher training has originated. By the very definition of public schools, our tax dollars are going to this form of education where we have chosen to enroll our kids. Sending our children to public school is not a delegation of power to the district. Our kids are our own.
Schools should play a supporting role to parents as we lead in raising and educating our children. Parents are not a threat; we are the ones who have our students’ best interests in mind. And we will fight tooth and nail to protect them from what we see to be harmful policies and teachings. The parent bill of rights is a legal step in that direction.