Parents, as you transition from summer into school mode, know that you’re not alone if you’re concerned with the state of K-12 education. In fact, most parents want more focus on academics, less on politically-charged activism, and greater curriculum transparency. Many teachers feel the same. Beyond the ballot box and exercising school choice, how do parents help improve the academic culture for our kids when it feels like the stakes have never been higher? How do we focus on our sphere of influence and “own” our children’s education this school year?
Partner with teachers and schools
Kids are best-served when parents and teachers partner together. Attend back to school nights. Get to know your child’s teacher and the school administration. Assume positive intent and set open lines of communication. Be familiar with the culture of the classroom/school by volunteering in it. Establishing this foundation helps parents resolve concerns if they arise.
Know your rights
Parents have primary responsibility for the education of their children, and with that comes the right to transparency. That right is codified in federal law and is reiterated in the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). The PPRA gives parents the right to review curriculum and to opt their children out of surveys that probe into political or religous beliefs, sexual identity, and other private topics (Colorado’s opt-out form is here)
To know what your child is learning, request and review textbooks, supplemental materials, homework, in-class activities, and digital content. Focus on subjects like social studies (history and civics), language arts, health, and social emotional learning.
The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) is a valuable tool for parents to foster transparency and accountability in their school system. Parents have the right to obtain communications, consultant trainings, contracts, and other information through this process. Sunlight is the best disinfectant! Learn more about CORAs here.
Know your children’s rights
The First Amendment protects your child’s rights to free speech and freedom from compelled speech, such as stating one’s pronouns or admitting privilege/victimhood based on immutable traits. In addition, the Civil Rights Act prohibits schools from treating students differently based on race.
Be familiar with your school district’s policies as they will often expand on these rights and are good to reference when resolving concerns.
Questions for teachers/school administrators
Ask teachers and administrators such questions as:
How will you keep your classroom apolitical?
How do you define “age appropriate” and how will that be upheld in my child’s grade?
How will you encourage diversity of thought in your classroom?
Do you notify parents before surveys are administered and before students receive services from school counselors?
What to watch for
Here are common topics in schools that can have positive qualities but carry concerns beneath the surface, and should prompt parents to inquire further:
Social emotional learning (SEL) programs have recently expanded beyond the traditional focus of managing emotions, and are now often encroaching further into kids’ lives via “Transformative SEL” and other avenues. Is your school using this invasive and activist “new age” SEL?
Equity risks moving us from a culture of equal opportunity to one of forced equal outcome. If your school promotes equity, what actions are they taking around it and how are they measuring success?
“Anti-racist” author Ibram Kendi, is frequently read in Colorado’s middle and high schools. Kendi’s message is to hyper-focus on race, see the world through the lens of racial power struggles, and believe that “the only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination.” We should be against racism, but Kendi’s (increasingly embraced) version of “anti-racism” is regressive. Does your school balance Kendi’s message by including black scholars like those from 1776 Unites?
Kids are often trained to think that their defining feature is their group “identity”, surface-level traits such as skin color or sexuality. Dividing and stereotyping like this doesn’t help children flourish. What does “identity” mean to your kids’ school?
Ethnic studies can teach a skewed, divisive history of America that disproportionately focuses on our flaws. Social Justice then can mean telling kids to fundamentally transform America’s culture to uproot supposed oppression. Is your school teaching our history in a full and balanced way?
Start by respectfully engaging the teacher, and asking questions to understand his or her motive. Explain your concerns and consider requesting an alternative assignment or the use of a different book for balance on a controversial topic (be “for”, not just “against” something). Engaging constructively like this often leads to good results.
If the issue isn’t satisfactorily resolved, consult the school administration and be prepared to elevate to your school board if needed. Document your concerns and conversations, and remember your tools such as CORA.
There is power in numbers! Link up with like-minded parents to share your concerns and discuss how to resolve them. Organizations like FAIR and Moms for Liberty have chapters in most states and can be great resources.
Talk to your kids, both about what they’re learning at school and to reinforce your values at home. Don’t leave that up to chance.
Remember, you own your child’s education and moral formation; you have the right and the ability to do so, and your courage becomes a habit! Here’s to a great school year for parents, teachers, and kids!
Here are examples of parent toolkits that outline rights, how to resolve concerns, and alternative curriculum and policies to promote:
Will Johnson is an educational choice advocate who lives in Highlands Ranch.
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