The U.S. House of Representatives on March 24 passed H.R. 5, the Parents Bill of Rights Act.
The bill passed the lower chamber in a 213–208 party-line vote.
Republicans easily defeated a Democrat measure to recommit the legislation to committee.
H.R. 5, the fulfillment of Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) long-promised “parental bill of rights,” would do several things, each with the overarching goal of ensuring that parents know what’s going on in their children’s classrooms.
The bill comes after COVID-19 restrictions led many parents to receive a better glimpse into their children’s education, as they were learning at home via their computers. Many parents learned in this setting about the far-left ideology being pushed in the classroom.
In turn, parents across the nation began showing up to school board meetings to protest the curriculum.
Later, Attorney General Merrick Garland was caught in an Oct. 4, 2021, memo offering federal resources and legal aid to states days after the National School Boards Association wrote a letter to President Joe Biden saying the country’s “public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat” from these parents and called verbal confrontations and other incidents at local school board meetings across the country “domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
Since that memo came to light, McCarthy has vowed to deliver legislation to ensure that parents’ control over their children’s education is legally protected.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, made the issue his campaign’s primary concern. Voters rewarded Youngkin by giving him a wide-margin victory over his Democrat rival in the blue-leaning Dominion State.
The main component of the bill would require schools to publicly disclose the contents of their curriculum and library materials to parents. Currently, many schools teaching radical ideology do so without the parents’ knowledge.
Additionally, the bill would establish the right of parents to see their kids’ schools’ expenditures.
“Public schools are paid for by taxpayer dollars,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said of the measure during a House Rules Committee hearing on the bill. “Mothers and fathers deserve financial transparency and to see how their money is being used.”
The bill would also ensure that parents are notified of, and give consent to, any medical procedure performed on their child on school grounds.
A similar provision would require that parents be notified of any violent activity on school grounds.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said that the bill would establish new “checks and balances” for parents over their children’s education.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) called the bill “a basic concept but a powerful statement.”
During floor debate on the bill, Foxx accused education bureaucrats and school district employees of “pushing progressive politics in the classroom while keeping parents in the dark.”
“Parents will finally be empowered to examine classroom curricula and protect the safety and privacy of their children without fear of being targeted by the federal government.
Democrats spoke against the bill.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who led Democrat opposition to the bill, dismissed the legislation as the “Politics Over Parents Act.”
Scott said the bill was part of a GOP plot “to allow a vocal minority to impose their beliefs on all parents.”
Protecting Parents Who Speak Out
One of the Republicans’ key goals in crafting the bill was to ensure that parents who speak out against what is being taught to their children do not face retribution from local, state, or federal authorities.
“No longer will [parents] have their speech denied, or feel threatened for expressing their concerns at school board meetings,” Foxx said.
The comment was in reference to a late-2021 controversy in which Attorney General Merrick Garland offered federal resources and guidance to local law enforcement to target parents who attended school board meetings.
In 2021, the United States saw a deluge of concerned parents coming to school board meetings to speak out against left-wing ideology in the classroom.
Many parents came to their school board to speak out against critical race theory (CRT), a highly contentious left-wing theory that holds that white people are inherently “privileged” and that non-white people are inherently oppressed. Critics of CRT note that it has its origins in the political thought of Karl Marx, the ideological founder of communism; the theory has also been criticized as racist for its efforts to reduce the individual to a member of a group on the basis of their skin color.
In his remarks against the bill, Scott suggested that CRT was “an accurate recounting of our nation’s history,” and that the legislation would “punish librarians” who pushed CRT.
Other parents came to school board meetings to speak out against fringe left-wing notions of sex and gender. Many left-wing activists claim that gender is a social construct and that a person can change their gender based on their feelings.
One parent, Terry Newsome of Chicago, who spoke out against allowing “Gender Queer” in his kids’ school library in 2021, was later placed on a terror watch-list with no warning or further explanation.
In an Oct. 4, 2021, memo Garland sent to U.S. attorneys across the nation, the attorney general offered to help local law enforcers to round up and file charges against parents who spoke out.
Republicans took the memo as a sign that the administration was prepared to target parents for protected First Amendment activity. Since then, they have vowed to deliver a “parents’ bill of rights” to protect against such abuses if they took back the House.
During his questioning, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) explicitly referenced the Oct. 4 memo as part of the reason for the bill’s existence.
Allegations of “book banning” took up a large portion of the debates over the legislation.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a series of state legislatures and school districts have prohibited certain books with overtly sexual or racial themes from certain schools or age levels.
For instance, many school districts and states have barred the book “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe from school libraries. The book, delivered in the form of a graphic novel, recounts the experience of a minor female who believes she is male; during an especially graphic part of the story, the main character is depicted engaging in oral sex with another biological female who identifies as male.
Another such book, “Flamer” by Mike Curato, traces the homosexual experiences of a minor boy at summer camp with another minor boy.
Though these and other controversial works remain protected by the First Amendment and can be purchased in stores or online, they are inaccessible from many school libraries due to their highly-sexual content.
Nevertheless, Democrats have insisted that restricting children’s access to these and other books is tantamount to censorship.
“State Republicans are going on a book banning spree that would make the Chinese Communist Party blush,” House Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said later.
Twenty-five states have passed such laws.
McGovern depicted this as “Republican legislators telling students what they are, and are not, allowed to learn.”
“That allows one racist or homophobic person to tell an entire class, an entire school, what they can and can’t read,” he added.
During later questioning at the Rules Committee hearing, Scott admitted that nothing in the bill would ban books. But he suggested that if libraries were forced to disclose their inventory, more books would be banned.
As part of the bill, school libraries would be required to publish the full list of books in their library, and to update those lists in a timely fashion when they purchase new materials.
Scott painted a portrait of right-wing organizations mounting crusades to have certain books removed from school libraries: “This bill will make the logistics of that easy.”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) responded to this argument later in the hearing, citing “Flamer.”
“If libraries have to publish their lists, yeah, some things might be removed,” Roy said. “[Flamer] should be removed. But it’ll be debated. It’ll be discussed.”