Defending Parental Rights in Education | Opinion

In its growing struggle with parents seeking to reclaim control of their children's education from purveyors of a radical political agenda, the government just took things to a whole new, dangerous level.

In response to a letter from the National School Board Association comparing parents to domestic terrorists, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that he will essentially begin treating parents who voice their concerns as such, and direct the FBI to investigate them that way, if they push too hard for accountability from local school boards.

The announcement was a major escalation of government action against the growing movement of parents concerned about the direction of public education. Many parents experienced a "great awakening" as a result of COVID-19—seeing firsthand, on their children's laptops, lessons that included transgender ideology, critical race theory and even graphic sexual content. Not surprisingly, they spoke up, only to find their voices ignored by "woke" school boards who take their cues from powerful, agenda-driven activists working to undermine the role of parents in their children's education.

Garland's decision should help parents see that the infusion of politics into public education comes from the top down. On day one, President Joe Biden imposed his party's gender ideology in education through an executive order. He instructed federal agencies to reinterpret federal laws to allow boys into girls' sports and locker rooms under the guise of fighting discrimination—in ways that jeopardize the safety and privacy of the entire student body. Subsequent Department of Education guidance even encourages schools to withhold information from parents if their child adopts a transgender identity at school.

The current battle highlights the growing threat to parental rights. Our laws have long recognized that parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children, including their education. This should not be a Left-versus-Right issue. All government officials should respect what the U.S. Supreme Court called "perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests."

But some politicians think government officials know what is best for your children. "Listen," Virginia's former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe recently told voters. "We have a board of ed working with the local school boards to determine the curriculum for our schools. You don't want parents coming in in every different school jurisdiction, saying, 'This is what should be taught here.'"

Government officials make it hard for parents to even find out what's being taught. There are no "truth-in-advertising" laws requiring schools to inform parents when they are using a curriculum that is politicized or that promotes transgender ideology. Books and multimedia don't come labeled with their ingredients like a box of macaroni and cheese. But, when parents do learn what's going on, many are shocked and horrified.

L.A. public school
Students walk to their classrooms at a public middle school in Los Angeles, California, September 10, 2021. - Children aged 12 or over who attend public schools in Los Angeles will have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by the start of next year, city education chiefs said September 9, 2021, the first such requirement by a major education board in the United States. Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

In Fairfax County, Virginia, a mother went to her children's school library and found one book depicting pedophilia and another describing oral sex between two males. In Atlanta, a black second grader told her mother that teachers put her in a black-students-only classroom in a deeply misguided effort to combat racism. And in Wisconsin, parents challenged a school district's gender transition policy designed to keep them in the dark.

When parents protested against school closures in California, school board members mocked them. When parents tried to find out whether critical race theory was in school curricula in Rhode Island, the national teachers' union sued them. And when parents protested against a policy in Loudon County, Virginia, a Facebook group that included school board members and the county prosecutor threatened to release private information about them.

No one condones directing threats, violence or abusive behavior toward school board members, and any such actions should be handled by local law enforcement. So why is the federal government intimidating parents by treating them as "terrorists" and invoking the national security apparatus?

Some states are doing the right thing. Florida became the latest state to pass a parents' bill of rights ensuring that parental rights are given the highest protection under our law. States like Minnesota, Texas and Arizona allow parents to review curricula and opt their child out of lessons with content they believe is harmful for their child.

A parent's ultimate tool for holding educators accountable is school choice. The greater the market competition, the greater the pressure on education providers to heed parents' preferences. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of school choice—a much-needed option when private or homeschooling poses a financial challenge.

When Mr. McAuliffe said, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach," he was clearly speaking for a host of powerful officials. Someone should remind him and President Biden of what the Supreme Court said in Pierce v. Society of Sisters: "The child is not the mere creature of the State."

Parents are standing up, but in order to win, they must pick the right battles. What's being put into children's minds didn't start with the local school board, and it won't end there. To protect their children's hearts, minds and bodies, parents must respectfully, but relentlessly, take their concerns from the school board, to the statehouse and to the corridors of Washington.

Emilie Kao is senior counsel and vice president of advocacy strategy with Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends).

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.