Standing with Parents
It’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but if there’s one positive, it may be that a lot of families started paying more attention to their children’s education. The disruptions caused by shuttered classrooms, social distancing and remote learning prompted many moms and dads to get much more involved. Parental involvement is always good, in my opinion.
We like to assume that our children’s days are only filled with reading, writing and arithmetic, but often that’s not the case. These days, children are exposed to all sorts of ideas at school. Some of this material is wonderful, but other lessons cross lines that families hold sacred. At other times, students are asked to participate in activities that would never be allowed at home. What is a parent to do when their children’s schoolroom lessons run counter to values the family is trying to instill? They can complain to the teacher or the administration, but in many places their objections fall on deaf ears.
One of my Senate colleagues has proposed legislation to bring more accountability to the classroom and provide parents with a greater voice in their children’s education. Senate Bill 647 has been described as a “Parents Bill of Rights.” I support this legislation so strongly that I signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill. The bill’s sponsor has a long record of standing up for parental rights and has done great work advancing legislation that benefits families, so I was honored that he allowed me to join him in advocating for this important protection.
If SB 647 becomes law, any parent or guardian could file a formal objection to their local school board regarding any school policy, practice or instructional material that is not required by state law. The school board would have 30 days to respond, either by denying the objection or implementing a plan to deal with it. If the school fails to make changes or exempt the child from whatever it was that cause the objection, the parents could then appeal the board’s decision to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
This proposed law has teeth. If a school district fails to address a parent’s concerns, it could be fined $1,500, or the amount the parent or guardian paid in local property taxes the previous year, whichever is greater. The money would have to be used to pay the child’s educational expenses – presumably at a different school that will respect the parent’s wishes.
It breaks my heart that we’ve come to the point where parents have to fight with schools for their children to receive a quality education that doesn’t go against strongly held beliefs or values. We don’t hear about this a lot in Southeast Missouri, but it is becoming more and more prevalent around our state. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need the protections offered by SB 647, and no family would ever have to go toe to toe with a school board. But I know that’s not the case. School districts are powerful institutions and parents have little recourse when they don’t agree with how their children are being taught. This legislation gives them just a little bit more power. I’m proud to support it.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.