By Rep. Brad Wenstrup
Parents are the first and foremost educators of our country’s next generation. The work our teachers and educators do is incredible and often inspirational, but it is by nature limited in scope. By design, God gave parents the precious responsibility of guiding children 24/7, 365.
During the pandemic, many parents embraced time at home with their children to take a more hands-on approach in their children’s schooling. We need parents’ participation now more than ever, as last year’s state assessment results from the Ohio Department of Education reveal massive learning losses among our students.
Too many Ohio students were left woefully behind as a result of the pandemic: statewide math proficiency rates plummeted ten percentage points in the fourth and sixth grades and fourteen points in eighth grade, compared to just prior to the pandemic. High school algebra and geometry proficiency rates in exams are down twelve and eight points respectively. In reading, our eighth grade and high school students’ proficiency rates are down five points.
How do we fix this? What is the plan to catch up? Educators, parents, students, and our community will need to strategize on a clear plan for recovery. This is an opportunity for families and educators to work together to enhance positive outcomes for our next generation.
Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents felt frustrated and powerless by school decisions. They felt they didn’t know what was happening in their children’s schools, or why decisions were being made, or what books their children were taught from; and they often felt their voices were excluded from the decision-making.
House Representatives passed the Parents Bill of Rights so that parents can have the information and tools they need to execute their responsibilities as parents and guides of our next generation. The Parents Bill of Rights states that parents have the right to know what their children are being taught, to be heard, to see school budgets and spending, to protect their child’s privacy, to keep their children safe and to be updated on any violent activity at school.
Students perform better when parents play an active role in their education, so the Parents Bill of Rights establishes that school districts must publicly post curriculum as well as a list of reading materials that are available in the school library.
Additionally, when it comes to our children’s health and safety, the Parents Bill of Rights establishes that schools cannot sell student data for commercial purposes; and schools also cannot share student data with tech companies unless they have express parental consent. Before any medical survey or exam takes place at school, including mental health or a substance use disorder survey, parents must provide their consent. The bill requires schools to notify parents of any violent activity that occurs on school grounds or at school-sponsored events, while protecting the privacy of students involved in the incident.
The bill states that educators and policymakers must respect the First Amendment rights of parents and that parents must be allowed to address the school board. The bill also states that school districts should consider community feedback when making decisions.
This should be welcomed by everyone involved in student education. We all know that students perform best when parents are engaged. The Parents Bill of Rights requires teachers to offer parents the ability to meet with them in person at least twice a year, but that should be considered a bare minimum. School closures during the pandemic caused learning loss, but parents can help bridge that gap by connecting with their children’s teachers, and identifying areas where students, schools, and education can improve.
With these rights come responsibilities. Parenting does not end at the school entrance. Just as it’s important for families to have meals together, it’s important for parents to read to their children and help with homework; it’s also important for parents to pick up the phone when teachers call home.
Active parent teacher-associations and engaged local school boards are a good thing for our students. They’re also a sign of a healthy democracy. The Parents Bill of Rights is an opportunity for us to work together. The education of our children should ideally be a partnership between parents and educators working together to teach our children everything they need to know so they can be the brightest contributors to our future.