Nationwide, school administrators are discovering they might be responsible for eye-popping court settlements if they hide K-12 activities from parents.

Nationwide, school administrators are discovering they might be responsible for eye-popping court settlements if they hide K-12 activities from parents. (Dreamstime/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has become the latest policymaker shining sunlight on school district actions, and with good reason. Nationwide, school administrators are discovering they might be responsible for eye-popping court settlements if they hide K-12 activities from parents.

Consider what happened last summer in California. The Spreckles Union School District settled with a mother who filed suit because educators “socially transitioned” her daughter, who wanted to assume a different so-called gender. District personnel allowed the girl to use the boys’ bathroom and addressed the student by masculine pronouns, all without the parent’s knowledge.

District officials settled with the mother for $100,000. Parents have filed similar suits in Michigan, Colorado and Texas over gender-related instruction or activities and parent involvement.

Rokita’s office has created an online portal that should protect families and taxpayers from school districts’ secretive policies. Families can submit examples to this site of educational material that other parents may not know children are being presented with in their classrooms.

Already, the portal has a link to one district’s “gender support plan” that instructs educators not to inform parents when their child wants to assume a different gender. A parent has posted an email explaining that her daughters do not want to change clothes with a boy in the girls’ locker rooms. According to the email, the school principal told the students the boy only had to say he was a girl in order to gain access to the facilities.

Other submissions are worthy of healthy debate between parents and teachers about the age-appropriateness of materials. One report objected to John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Elie Wiesel’s classic Holocaust chronicle “Night,” and “1984” by George Orwell. While these books have mature themes, educators and parents are responsible for deciding if, how and when to ask students to read books with heavy subjects.

They could very well choose other materials, but students will be worse off if topics such as poverty and the American Dream, the Holocaust, and the threats from totalitarianism are left out (or replaced with books on “gender” or critical race theory). Rokita’s project is appropriately elevating conversations about the importance of school content.

Rokita’s office says the new website, called “Eyes on Education,” is meant to be a “transparency portal to empower parents to further engage in their children’s education by providing a platform to submit and view potentially inappropriate materials in their schools.” The attorney general said in a news release, “Our kids need to focus on fundamental educational building blocks, NOT ideology that divides kids from their parents and normal society.”

In North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson created a similar online reporting site for parents, and a task force he assembled released a report on the submissions in 2021. The task force not only found that parents were frustrated by classroom content based on “gender” and with racial bias, but so, too, were teachers. One educator near retirement said they can no longer “trust the values being taught” in classrooms. Another said she was afraid to speak out about the political slant of course content for fear of being fired.

Eyes on Education is not Rokita’s first effort to protect parent rights. During the pandemic, his office released a document that lawmakers could use to draft a parent bill of rights for the state. The model bill is a welcome review of citizens’ and parents’ fundamental rights. If Rokita has to remind lawmakers that individuals have a right to speak at school board meetings and parents have a right to make decisions about medical care for a school-aged child, then clearly public school officials have assumed out-sized roles in public policy.

Indiana legislators have not used Rokita’s model to full effect yet, though the reports showcased on Eyes on Education and the litigation underway around the country should prompt lawmakers to move. If public school personnel resent the public peering into school curricula, that attitude is evidence there are things to be found.

Educators in Indiana — and beyond — should thank him. School personnel are better off if parents know and can comment on what students are being taught before a court forces educators to be more transparent. And as the Spreckles Union School District can attest, it’s certainly less costly.

Jonathan Butcher is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation.

©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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