House passes Parents Bill of Rights Act, giving parents control of children’s education

“These culture wars are a distraction from the real issues that schools are facing every day,” Denise Forte, CEO and president of Education Trust, said of the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which House Republicans introduced.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which would grant parents more control over their children’s education. 

If the U.S. Senate also passes the legislation and President Joe Biden signs it into law, it would permit parents to have access to a list of books and other reading materials in their kids’ school libraries and would ensure that teachers provide parents with their class curricula.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy(R-CA), upper right, and other House GOP members hold a press event on March 1, 2023 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to highlight the introduction of the Parents Bill of Rights. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Other provisions in the bill include parental consent for students to change their gender pronouns or sex-based accommodations, such as bathrooms and locker rooms. The legislation also allows parents to review a school’s budget and expenditures.

Denise Forte, president and CEO of The Education Trust, told theGrio that statutes like the Parents Bill of Rights Act “really aren’t about the parents.”

“They do nothing to invite parents to the table or really engage parents. Instead, what they’ve done is made Congress the National School Board, a teacher and a librarian all at once by really limiting the role of parents in their own child’s education,” she said.

She continued, “I think the message being sent is that the current public education system doesn’t matter. That students of color and what they want to learn and how they want to participate in school doesn’t matter. What parents really want, doesn’t matter.”

House Democrats have slammed their Republican colleagues for what they see as an educational power grab and attempt to further ban topics they don’t like, including race, sexuality and gender identity.

On the House floor, while debating the Parents Bill of Rights Act, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered a rebuke of the legislation. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., attends a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Dec. 13, 2022 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Ocasio-Cortez has criticized the Parents Bill of Rights Act, likening it to fascism. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

The New York congresswoman said the bill was an attempt to “take some of the most heinous legislation that we are seeing passed on the state level to attack our trans and LGBT as well as people from marginalized communities right to exist in schools.”

Ocasio-Cortez held up several books that have already been banned in some school districts as examples of the type of censorship she and other Democrats believe will result from the federal legislation. One of those books was “The Life of Rosa Parks.”

“This apparently is too woke by the Republican Party,” she said.

The bill comes as Republican-led states like Texas and Florida require that teachers get parental consent to teach certain topics. In some cases, several states have either passed or introduced legislation to ban the teaching of critical race theory, which restricts classroom conversations around race, sexuality and systemic inequality.

In recent years, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced efforts to limit race education in the state’s public school system. 

In 2021, he took steps to ban critical race theory (CRT) and said, “In Florida, we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory. We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other.” 

Earlier this year, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued an executive order banning the teaching of CRT during her first weeks in office. 

The order stated, “Critical Race Theory is antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality, and fairness. It emphasizes skin color as a person’s primary characteristic, thereby resurrecting segregationist values, which America has fought so hard to reject.” 

Activist Perry Redd told theGrio that DeSantis and other GOP leaders are “whitewashing American history by diminishing the teaching of Black history.” 

Hundreds participate in the National Action Network demonstration on Feb. 15, 2023 in Tallahassee, Florida in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ rejection of a high school African American history course. (Alicia Devine /Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

“This is a snapshot of America’s digression from the civil rights era to now. I’ve heard it said when [former President] Barack Obama was elected that we’re in a post-racial America, and nothing has been further from the truth,” he said.

Critics say the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which aims to modify the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, would have devastating consequences for students and educators.

Forte told theGrio that the House’s introduction of the Parents Bill of Rights Act is a slippery slope “What’s next?” she asked. “I mean, destabilizing the public education system is really destabilizing democracy … they’re looking at any way possible to make sure that our public education system won’t be existing.”

In the meantime, Democrats are working on their own bill that they hope will be a more “authentic” collaboration between parents and teachers to ensure students of all ages receive historically accurate instruction. 

However, Forte told theGrio that the debate over who can teach what in the classroom puts the focus on the wrong thing. “These culture wars are a distraction from the real issues that schools are facing every day and that is teacher shortages, the lack of real living wage pay scales for teachers, the lack of really quality professional development for teachers,” she said.

Forte continued, “If we really supported teachers in the way that they need supporting, we wouldn’t have this conversation about CRT or banning books or whether a kid has the ability to change their pronouns. We wouldn’t be having those conversations.”

The Parents Bill of Rights Act will now move on to the Senate, where Democrats are likely to block it from passing.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!