GOP pushes US schools to be ‘transparent’ with books

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds delivers his State of the State Address January 11 before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature at the Statehouse in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Republican lawmakers in states across the US – including Iowa – are trying to force schools to post all course materials online for parents to view, part of a nationwide campaign broader GOP call for a broad declaration of parents’ rights before the Congressional midterm elections.

At least one proposal would give parents without expertise the power to choose the programs of study. Parents could also file complaints about certain lessons and, in some cases, sue school districts.

Teachers say parents already have easy access to what their children are learning. They fear mandates create an unnecessary burden and potentially threaten their professional independence, while dragging them into a culture war.

The proposals “imply there are hiding places,” said Katie Peters, a high school English teacher in Toledo, Ohio. “It puts me on the defensive a bit, because I’m like no, wait a minute, we’re not hiding anything. The transparency is still there, and the parents who cared to look have still had access.”

The bills grew out of last year’s debate over teaching about race, diversity and sexuality. The GOP insists that changes are needed to give parents more control over what their children hear in the classroom.

“I don’t think anyone disputes the fact that more information is better for parents,” said Brett Hillyer, a Republican state representative from Ohio who is co-sponsoring such a bill. He said the proposal could ease disagreements between parents, teachers and school boards before they go too far.

Educators don’t mind keeping parents informed, but they do see a risk that so-called program transparency requirements invite censorship, burnout and quits.

Other states considering a version of the idea include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and West Virginia.

In the Iowa Senate, GOP lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow parents to take legal action against schools or educators who distribute books or materials that parents deem obscene. Sen. Jake Chapman of Adel, who introduced Senate Docket 2198, said the legislation was necessary because parents have no other recourse when school districts refuse to remove books or other materials that parents find objectionable.

“Parents are totally excluded from this equation. They have no other recourse. That’s why this bill is needed,” Chapman said last week.

It’s unclear how much traction the bill will get in the Iowa Legislature this year, as the Republican governor and Iowa House speaker have called for “transparency” instead.

“We want to make sure there’s transparency in our kids’ education and make sure parents are involved,” House Speak Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said last week. “But I don’t think the criminal penalty exhibit is something the House is going to do…it’s not going to be part of our conversation.”

During the opening of Iowa’s legislative session last month, Governor Kim Reynolds spoke strong words in a speech about school supplies, but offered a modest policy proposal: She would require schools to publish in online all class materials as well as a list of books available at the school. library.

Schools are already required to have this information; Reynolds’ proposal would require them to publish it online. It would add a provision that if a district does not respond to a parent’s complaint about any material within 30 days, the complaint is forwarded to the state Department of Education. State funding could be withheld for any district that does not comply.

“We live in a free country with free expression. But there’s a difference between shouting vulgarities on a street corner and assigning them as required reading in class,” Reynolds said.

Last week at Iowa House, a proposal requiring cameras in the classroom so parents could watch a live stream — House File 2177 — was pulled and appears dead for the remainder of the session.

In Ohio, a bill would affect public, private and charter schools, as well as colleges and universities that participate in the state’s dual enrollment program for students in seventh through 12th grade.

A group of three Ohio teachers recently sat down with The Associated Press to discuss the proposal. They said they already publish curriculum, textbook information, course materials, and sometimes notes for parents and students, at least at the middle and high school levels. None of them recalled ever refusing a parent’s request for additional information.

Juliet Tissot, a mother of two from the Cincinnati suburb of Madeira, said elementary classrooms were a different story.

The nonprofit and volunteer worker said schools there stopped sending textbooks home years ago and often failed to provide curriculum details when asked. This leaves parents searching for information when helping kids with homework.

“Children are much more with their parents than with their teachers, and it’s a shame that parents don’t know what’s going on and they don’t know anymore,” she said. “I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, but it looks like it’s finally coming to a head.”

Tissot also supports tighter monitoring of teachers’ behavior, including requiring them to wear body cameras.

Ohio teachers said parents of older children sometimes pull a student out of class when evolution or the Big Bang theory, for example, is being taught in science, or ask for another assignment when they are offended by a selected reading, and these interactions generally go smoothly.

“That’s the thing that’s missing from this law. It’s painted broadly, like these irregularities are happening,” said Dan Greenberg, who teaches high school English in the Sylvania suburb of Toledo. “You talk to people who are there in the trenches, and we always have a really good partnership with the parents.”

The GOP acted after conservatives complained about public school responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020. Some states and local school boards have banned books on race relations, slavery, and gender.

Ohio teachers say Republican efforts could ultimately erode their ability to make professional judgments and stifle the spontaneity that brings their classrooms to life, while adding to workloads that have already weighed heavily on staff.

“I’m afraid it’s some kind of Trojan horse coming into the classroom to select what they see and steer us in different directions or stop us from doing things,” said Robert Estice, professor of science and critical thinking in college. Columbus suburb of Worthington.

Emerson Sykes, a staff attorney at the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, called the bills “thinly veiled attempts to prevent teachers and students from learning about and talking about race and gender in schools.” schools”.

Hillyer said he doesn’t want parents to be able to censor school materials. The proposed parent bill of rights calls for access to school materials and academic, medical and security records, as well as certain building entry privileges and more.

Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute that lobbies for program transparency, said in a Twitter post last month that the proposals would “prompt the left” to appear to oppose transparency. He said it would raise the question of what Democrats should be hiding, which will help Republican candidates.

“The strategy here is to use non-threatening liberal value ‘transparency’ to force ideological actors to submit to public scrutiny,” Rufo tweeted, explaining that the GOP proposals “will give parents powerful control over power. bureaucratic”.

The Democratic governors of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have vetoed the program transparency bills. A Utah lawmaker introduced a bill last month after facing a backlash from teachers.

In places where bills are moving forward, some sponsors of the legislation have had to back down following criticism.

During a debate on a Republican-backed education reform package in Indiana, Republican Sen. Scott Baldwin said maintaining neutrality on contentious issues requires teachers to be “unbiased” when they discuss Nazism. After much criticism, Baldwin walked back his comments, saying in a statement that he “unequivocally” condemned Nazism, fascism and Marxism and agreed that teachers should do the same.

Indiana conservatives banded together and added provisions ensuring educators can still discuss “social injustices” and “teach that Nazism is wrong.” But the legislation gives local parents’ committees no expert power over what teachers use, and parents could file complaints and lawsuits if they think teachers have violated the ban on certain ‘divisive concepts’. .

Teachers describe Indiana’s law as so burdensome that it would likely force some out of the profession.

“I’m struggling to see how I’m going to put some of the language that’s currently in these bills into my classroom and still be able to teach kids to be critical thinkers,” said Suzanne Holcomb, who teaches fifth year at Elkhart. . Lawmakers should understand “how much it takes on a lot of people who are already on the verge of coming out and being finished.”

Scott DiMauro, president of Ohio’s largest teachers’ union, fears such bills could worsen the surge in quits and retirements triggered by the stresses of teaching in the age of COVID. -19. Teachers, he said, “felt caught in a culture war that they did not create.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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