The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of expanding the conversation about how public policy affects the daily lives of people across our state. Chris Huntsman taught Kansas schools for 36 years.
I am writing, as a retired teacher, to challenge US Representative Jake LaTurner’s proclaimed need for a Parents’ Bill of Rights in his weekly email update earlier this summer. In fact, they’re not even his bill of rights, because they come from the office of Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Apparently his constituents in Kansas’ 2nd District didn’t ask for them.
I feel infuriated because he has exacerbated parent demands and recent proposals from the Kansas Legislature, such as easing book bans, posting all programs and sources online, and cracking down on masking and quarantines, and a host of other things. It’s dishonest of him to suggest there’s a problem with Kansas schools when there isn’t.
Did you know that McCarthy’s Parents’ Bill of Rights mirrors JFK’s Consumers’ Bill of Rights from the 1960s? I taught them for 36 years in consumer education classes.
These are important principles, and LaTurner is quite right that parents should be the primary stakeholders in the education of their children. Unfortunately, in my 36 years of teaching, I have seen many parents who have failed to take on this responsibility.
The representative suggests that parents in Kansas are helpless. They are not. The LaTurner-McCarthy Bill of Rights is already in place.
LaTurner is absolutely right that parents should be the primary stakeholders in the education of their children. Unfortunately, in my 36 years of teaching, I have seen many parents who have failed to take on this responsibility.
But Kansas parents, including the LaTurners, have a RESPONSIBILITY to:
- Meet and get to know the administration and teachers, attend and participate in PTOs, site councils, district advisory committees. In my district, program adoption materials are selected by teachers and administration, then samples are taken to site councils for review. Here is the opportunity for parents to see! And they can certainly observe what their child brings home daily.
- They have the right to address their school board in public meetings, according to the agenda. But parents have the RESPONSIBILITY to follow the dispute resolution policy before bringing it to the board.
- Schools publish proposed budgets each year before approval – in newspapers and online. The RESPONSIBILITY of parents is to research, ask questions and raise concerns.
- Confidentiality has always been there; never doubt it. With social media and an online presence, there can be a leak, but not by school staff. School districts have purchased “grade programs” forever, and grades are online. Social-emotional learning is a current buzzword. Programs can also be used to track social and emotional issues, usually in the form of discipline, attendance, and failing grades so interventions can be made in a timely manner. Parents have the RESPONSIBILITY to work with the school on socio-emotional situations involving their children.
- I retired in 2008 and the violent activities at the time were posted on the Kansas State Department of Education website. Schools now have procedures in place in the event of a security breach; they text parents for “lockdowns”.
I propose a declaration of teachers’ rights.
- Teachers have a right to security. I have never been assaulted, but today many are. We have a responsibility not to take risks. Teachers should know the safety procedures and policy and then take responsibility, for example, to file a worker’s compensation claim in the event of an injury. Teachers are bad at this; districts say “just use your health insurance – one of your benefits”. Still, there are deductibles, co-payments, and possibly the potential for long-term issues. Teachers must also file police reports if necessary. Districts must enforce their bullying policy.
- Teachers have the right to be informed and the responsibility, when hired, to know the reputation and history of the school district.
- Teachers have the right to choose and the responsibility to choose the best job for their situation.
- Teachers have the right to be heard and the responsibility to raise concerns with the administration, school board, and file appropriate grievances or claims per incident in accordance with their contract and state law.
Schools work better when parents know their responsibilities and when we value our teachers. Cookie-cutter solutions copied from Washington, DC leaders will not improve Kansas schools. LaTurner should aim higher.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own review, here.