SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. John Johnson, a Republican from North Ogden, aims to build parents’ ability to take action if something goes wrong with their children’s public school curriculum.
As he says, Senate Bill 157, publicly unveiled on Tuesday although its language is changed, aims to put parents in the driver’s seat of their children’s education. The thrust is to reinforce the notion “that parents come first”, he said on Thursday.
Specifically, the measure gives parents the legal power to step in and prevent the teaching of “objectionable” curriculum to their children. Parental veto power would extend to textbooks, “subject” and other activities.
“Imprehensible,” one of the law’s key words, is not defined. Parents, Johnson said, would be left to make the decision. Other language in SB 157 that would give parents the power to sue to block the instruction of “objectionable” material will be removed, Johnson said.
Utah lawmakers, at least some, are emphasizing education this session, proposing measures ostensibly designed to allow public education to be scrutinized. Another proposal is underway to create a voucher program that would allow parents to use public funds to enroll their children in private schools, according to media reports.
Johnson said he was reacting to the growing outcry he was hearing from parents, appalled in particular by the type of instruction their children were receiving during the COVID-19 pandemic. “They were seeing things they didn’t really like,” he said.
A critic for SB 157, Sara Jones, director of government relations for the Utah Education Association, which represents teachers, said parents already have the power to veto the type of instruction their children receive, by particularly in matters of health and sex education. Johnson acknowledged this, but said SB 157 codifies the power into law.
The Weber County legislator, a fiscal and social conservative, said another key part of SB 157 is to assert the primacy of state government over the federal government in setting education policy.
SB 157 has been sent to the Senate Education Committee for deliberation, but debate over the measure is already underway.
Jones placed particular emphasis on the provision that would allow parents to sue, before Johnson said the language would be removed. Additionally, she noted that parents have the power to homeschool their children, aside from the power they already have to step in when they are uncomfortable with the teaching materials being used. with their children.
“I think there are curriculum-related bills that try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” she said.
Johnson said fighting teachers was not the goal of his efforts. Even so, Jones said creating friction between parents and teachers could be the effect.
“We see this bill pitting parents against teachers, when parents and teachers enable a student to succeed,” Jones said. “This bill creates unnecessary controversy.”
Separately, Johnson is considering a measure targeting Critical Race Theory in Schools, a theoretical framework centered on the role of race and racism in legal, educational and other institutions, as the Brookings Institution puts it. Critics of anti-CRT efforts argue that concerns about the theoretical framework are exaggerated, that it is not integrated into the school curriculum.