April 18, 2024 1:46 pm

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Overwhelming public support for Parental Rights initiative

OLYMPIA—The House Education Committee and Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee held a joint public hearing to discuss Initiative 2081, protecting parental rights, on Wednesday, February 28. The Meeting was chaired by Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos (D- Rainier Beach).

Parental Rights
Discussion on Initiative 2081 concerning parental rights at the public hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from TVW broadcast of public hearing.

“We all know that family members are every child’s first teachers,” said Senator Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island). “And I think that creating an educational system that welcomes parents and guardians as partners in the education system is crucial.”

Each of the 15 of the declared rights in the initiative refers to parents and legal guardians of public school children under the age of 18. The definition of public school, as defined by state law, is charter school, common schools, and other schools having a curriculum below the college or university level.

The first right deals with access to materials which would instate the parental right to examine textbooks, curriculum, supplemental material, used in their child’s classroom.

The second right would grant the parental right to inspect their child’s public school records and to receive a copy within 10 days of a written request. These include academic records, vocational counseling, screening records, medical or health records, discipline and attendance records, and any other student specific files.

The next five rights refer to medical services and treatment including rights for parents to receive any notification when medical service or medication have been provided to the child that could result in any financial impact, and notification whenever a student is given medical attention that results in follow up care beyond normal school hours.

Parental Rights
Discussion on Initiative 2081 concerning parental rights at the public hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from TVW broadcast of public hearing.

The sixth right would make it necessary that parents be immediately notified if a criminal action was deemed to be committed against their child; whereas the seventh right requires notification to a parent if any law enforcement officer questioned their child unless the questioning is about whether a parent abused or neglected the child.

The eighth right deals with notification if the child has been removed from campus without parental permission.

The ninth declared right is that the school will not discriminate against a child based on their family’s religious beliefs.

The tenth right would allow parents to opt out their children from engagements that may question their child’s sexual experience or attractions, religious or political beliefs, and mental or behavioral health of the child or family members. The eleventh right, somewhat similar, would allow parents the right to opt out their children from instructional topics on sexual activity.

The twelfth right is to receive a copy of the school’s calendar, with revisions, which also must be posted on the school’s website.

The thirteenth right is to receive a list of any required fee and its purpose end use and how economic hardships can be addressed in writing or on the school’s website.

The fourteenth right is to receive a description of the school’s dress code or uniform.

The fifteenth, and final right, is for a parent to be notified of their child’s academic performance if it could result in failure to be promoted to the next grade level and be offered an in-person meeting with teacher to discuss options for academic improvement.

Senator Wellman stated that about 90 percent of the rights included in the proposed initiative can already be found in existing law but are spread throughout several different statutes and federal laws. She noted what the initiative does bring to light is how “confusing” parental rights can be as far as accessibility and understanding for parents.

Parental Rights
Discussion on Initiative 2081 concerning parental rights at the public hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from TVW broadcast of public hearing.

Representative Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo) was first to speak on the initiative, asking a question how the initiative would affect school workers adherence to Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

Megan Wargacki, Committee Staff, explained that FERPA is the federal regulation in which the state adheres to but there are six exceptions regarding public records, such as grades, class lists, transcripts, course schedules, student discipline files, and health records. In regard to HIPPA, which refers to a student’s health information, Warfacki noted that typically if HIPPA applies, FERPA does not apply. She admittedly didn’t quite answer Rep. Ortiz-Self’s original question, rather just define what FERPA and HIPPA are and do, but the question was later answered by Matt Shultz with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Schultz echoed much of what Senator Wellman stated in that most of the rights listed in Initiative 2081 are already rights that parents possess. He also noted, tracing back to Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self’s question that the I-2081 would not supersede federal law, including HIPPA and FERPA.

“Engaged parents raise healthy and happy kids,” said Representative Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), who filed the initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office. “The point of this initiative is to engage parents and grandparents and legal guardians in the upbringing of their children.”

Walsh continued that I-2081 seeks to do is clarify the rights that parents have in doing this.

There was a total of 158 people signed in to testify, 150 in favor, one opposed, and seven others. There were 6,477 non-testifiers, 5,756 for, 692 con, and 29 other.

Initiative 2081 is just one of six Let’s Go Washington initiatives being considered in Olympia. It received 449,646 signatures before being verified by the Office of the Secretary of State Elections Division using a state-mandated process of examining a 3% random sample of submitted signatures.

The governance of Washington’s public school system is a shared responsibility between the state and 295 school districts with the legislature and state agencies, including the office of the superintendent of public instruction, and the state board of education establishing requirements for school districts, but local elected school district board members directors are responsible for the operation of their respective districts.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, released the following comments after the conclusion of the hearings for three of the 2024 initiatives submitted by the people of Washington to the Legislature.

“While I’m glad that the people had the chance to weigh in on three of the initiatives this week, I’m disappointed that Democratic leaders are ignoring the other three. The people of Washington deserve to be heard and there’s still time. We still have a week left in this session during which the majority could hold three more joint hearings. What are they afraid of?”

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