July 19, 2024 3:22 pm

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State’s top superintendent instructs school districts to ignore new Parents’ Rights initiative

OLYMPIA—State Superintendent Chris Reykdal instructs school districts across Washington state to not make any changes to its existing policies and procedures as a result of Initiative 2081 (I-2081), establishing the Parents’ Bill of Rights, until the clarity is provided by the courts.

Parents' Rights

Below is the press release from Superintendent Reykdal on June 5 in its entirety on his direction for school districts until the June 20 court date for a preliminary injunction to I-2081 (Parents’ Bill of Rights):

In early March, the Legislature passed Initiative 2081 (I-2081), establishing the Parents’ Bill of Rights in Washington state. While the initiative overlaps or mirrors existing law in many places, some provisions conflict with current law––particularly around students’ right to privacy in school.

The initiative states that parents and legal guardians have the right to inspect their child’s public school records, a right that is already outlined in existing law. However, the initiative defines what constitutes as a “record,” to include items such as medical or health records; records of any mental health counseling; and any other student-specific files, documents, or other materials maintained by the school.

Chris Reykdal

Some of these records contain personal information and are protected under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and as such, cannot be disclosed without the student’s consent.

“I want to be clear: This initiative did not change, reduce, or diminish student privacy rights in Washington schools that are protected by federal law,” said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal.

“There is no question that students are best supported when their families are actively involved in their education,” Reykdal continued. “But if a student does not feel safe coming out to their family and they turn to a trusted adult at their school for support, they have a right to receive that support without fear of being outed by their school.”

FERPA does not require the disclosure of any information related to a student’s gender status outside of a specific request to review and inspect records. Further, FERPA does not compel a school to share information that a school official obtains through personal knowledge or observation––and not from an education record––unless the school official uses the information in a manner that produces an education record.

“In Washington state, we recognize that LGBTQ+ youth often face barriers and challenges at higher rates than their peers, and we have worked hard to create learning environments where all students feel welcomed and included,” Reykdal said. “However, we are seeing a disturbing trend of some policymakers implementing state and local policies that aim to undo these protections.”

“Our state’s guidance has maintained that, in order to protect student privacy and safety, schools should communicate with students who disclose they are transgender or gender expansive about the student’s individual needs, preferences, and safety concerns,” Reykdal continued. “It is the student’s decision when and if their gender identity is shared, and with whom.”

On May 23, the ACLU of Washington, Legal Voice, and QLaw filed a lawsuit on behalf of 10 nonprofit organizations to prevent the initiative from taking effect because the initiative contradicts existing federal and state laws.

On June 4, the King County Superior Court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order, which would have prevented the initiative from taking effect on June 6 as scheduled by the Legislature. On June 21, the Court will consider a preliminary injunction.

To support schools in implementing the initiative, the Legislature directed the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop comprehensive technical guidance.

Until additional clarity is provided on the areas where the initiative conflicts with existing state and federal law, school districts should not make changes to any policies and procedures that are implicated by the conflicting sets of law. When in doubt, school districts should follow federal privacy laws.

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Initiative for Parent’s Rights

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).

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.

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.

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