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Oregon Congresswomen have competing visions of parental rights in education

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the "Parents Bill of Rights," while Democrats introduced their own competing bill.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The tension around parental control in public schools that started growing in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic has now become a duel on Capitol Hill: two bills, one sponsored by Republicans, one sponsored by Democrats, each laying out their own vision for the relationship school districts should have with parents and students.

In March, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed House Resolution 5 — what they're calling the "Parents Bill of Rights." It would codify into federal education law requirements that districts let parents know that they have the right to inspect school curriculum, budgets, and school library books. It also requires that schools let parents know if a child has changed their gender markers, pronouns or name at school, and whether a child is changing which restroom or locker room they're using.

The bill was co-sponsored by Republican freshman Congresswoman Lori Chavez-Deremer, who represents Oregon's 5th District.

"Nobody will understand a child's interest and needs more than the people who love them most — their parents," Chavez-Deremer said on the House floor. "So it's easy to understand why parents want to have, and deserve to have, the right to know what's going on inside the classroom. It is their responsibility." 

Parents already have the legal right to see school curricula and budgets, but it's not always easily accessible. They may need to request the information from their students' teachers or school administrators, or through the school board for budget information.

The legislation passed on narrowly, on a 213 to 208 vote, with five Republicans voting against it. The bill goes now to the Senate, where majority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said it has no future.

But in response, Oregon Democratic Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici introduced competing legislation, House Resolution 219, which she is calling the "Bill of Rights for Students and Parents."

"When I found out that we were going to be talking about parental involvement at schools, I said, 'Sign me up!'" said Bonamici. "But then when I saw the bill that my Republican colleagues proposed, I realized this doesn't actually do much at all for positive parental involvement." 

Both Bonamici and Chavez-Deremer serve on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Bonamici said she worked with the Parent Teacher Association to craft a bill that urges the adoption of educational materials that are historically accurate and reflect diversity, prepare students to participate in a multiracial and multiethnic democracy, and reduce disparities and eliminate discrimination.

"What we focus on in the bill is making a positive relationship between parents and educators, not an adversarial one," Bonamici said. "The bill that passed the House is basically a blueprint for micromanaging teachers and banning books. Of course parents have a right to know what their children are learning, but we have educators, librarians, and a process where we can have that conversation without using it as a tool to threaten funding."

House Resolution 219 has been introduced, but no vote has been taken so far.

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