Leftist policymakers in Connecticut are placing metaphorical “Parents Not Welcome” signs on our state’s classroom doors by allowing teachers to avoid Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about their communications with students.
Since this legislative session began on Jan. 4, the majority party in the General Assembly has introduced multiple bills which they say are to protect teachers from “harassment” based on ideological differences. They also aim to limit parental access to teacher-student communications.
The bills are in reaction to the rise of education as a national public policy issue, after local school board meetings became a hotbed of controversy over issues including masking, school closures and inadequate online learning, an obsession with skin color, so-called equity, and “social justice.”
Meanwhile, satisfaction with K-12 education in the United States has flipped from positive to negative — from 51 percent satisfied versus 47 percent dissatisfied in 2019 to 42 percent satisfied versus 55 percent dissatisfied in 2022. Nationwide reading and mathematics test scores have dropped considerably as a result of pandemic lockdowns; scores dropped even faster than the national average in Connecticut.
In response to increased parental involvement in school-related issues, the legislative majority is doubling down. Several bills this session seem intended to stymie parents’ efforts to discover what is happening in their children’s schools.
To enable teachers to evade FOIA requests, the majority proposed H.B. 6192, known as “An Act Concerning the Nondisclosure of Certain Communications between Teachers and Students.” The bill would exclude from the “definition of public record” any communication between a teacher and a student “that takes place during school-sponsored activities” regarding “sensitive subjects, such as sexual orientation, gender identity and race, that occur during school-sponsored activities.”
Additionally, the majority introduced H.B. 6396, referred to as “An Act Protecting Educators in Teaching Certain Subjects and Topics in Schools,” which prohibits local or regional boards of education from “punishing or otherwise restricting an educator from teaching about subjects in which ideological differences of opinion exist between such board and educator.” The goal is to create a work environment “free from harassment, intimidation or physical violence stemming from ideological differences of opinion.”
Certainly, harassment, intimidation, or physical violence are not warranted. But prohibiting boards of education from overseeing curriculum — which is one of their primary functions — limits their utility and is undemocratic, as the boards represent the will of the voters who elected them. Were this proposal to become law, a teacher presumably would be entitled to praise “The 1619 Project” or deny something like slavery, consequence-free.
Communities have a right to know what is being taught in classrooms because their taxpayers are footing the bill for the children’s education. Conversely, the minority party has multiple proposals to “allow parents to meaningfully participate in the education process,” as transparency has become a rallying cry for parental rights groups.
H.B. 5270 would require a local or regional board of education to make all K-12 curriculum materials available online and allow for public comment “at all regular or special meetings.” Meanwhile, H.B. 5560 and S.B. 278 would also require the commissioner of education to establish a teacher and parent advisory committee and grant parents the option to withdraw their child from attending or participating in any course “without cause or explanation.”
Due to the partisan configuration of the General Assembly, the proposals more likely to pass would create barriers between parents on the one hand and educators on the other. It’s difficult to create a partnership that will foster student success when parents and communities are treated with distrust and contempt — or even as domestic terrorists. Even if parents weren’t suspicious before, the majority’s bills would certainly create concerns, which will only generate more division and mistrust.
Any effort to “protect” teachers from “deplorable” parents and the community is not sowing the seeds for an inclusive or productive educational environment.
As always, sunlight is the best disinfectant. The path forward for students, parents, and educators is to lift any veil of secrecy on what students are being taught and set unjustified concerns to rest. Parents have the right to direct the education of their children, which includes knowing what they are being taught.
It’s the only way to improve Connecticut students’ math and reading proficiencies. And Connecticut schools must show parents they’re dedicated to helping our kids avoid a lifetime of playing “catch-up.” That, surely, is something we all can agree on.
This article originally appeared in The Federalist.