In the latest push from Texas Republican leadership to crack down on how race and sexuality are taught in the state’s public schools, Gov. Greg Abbott has released what he’s calling a Parental Bill of Rights.
The Dallas Morning News writes: “Abbott wants to amend the Texas Constitution to reinforce parents are the ‘main decision makers in all matters’ involving their children and expand families’ access to course curriculum so all lesson materials are available online.” Emily Donaldson has been covering this story for the Dallas Morning News – where she’s a reporter for their Education Lab. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What exactly is this “Parental Bill Of Rights,” as Governor Abbott characterizes it? What’s he proposing?
Emily Donaldson: It’s a good question. He debuted the document last night at an event in Lewisville – a charter school up there – and the document outlines what the governor thinks should be standard rights for parents. And on that list are proposals to amend the Texas Constitution to reinforce that parents are the main decision makers in all matters for their kids. And then there’s another proposal that would seemingly expand access to course materials and lesson plans. So that way, they would all be available online. There’s another item on there that would constrain how schools deal with students data. But as people have pointed out since then, a lot of those things actually already exist in Texas policy or law.
I noticed a letter that came from the Association of Texas Professional Educators, or ATPE. They said that the so-called Parental Bill of Rights “wouldn’t give Texas parents any new rights.” So the things that Gov. Abbott’s talking about are already spelled out in Texas code?
More or less. So, for instance, on the curriculum transparency track – for years, Texas parents have been able to ask their teacher if they could submit lesson materials over to them. And if that doesn’t work, they could also do it through an Open Records request. So that’s pretty standard. There are also grievance policies in every single district. If there is any kind of question over whether something’s appropriate or not and parents can go through that process. But on Abbott’s Bill of Rights, I think one of the items says that we should ensure that parents’ concerns about curriculum are considered quickly and respectfully. It doesn’t really define what that would actually look like in practice.
We’ve seen in other states – certainly Florida comes to mind, and Virginia as well – so-called Parental Bill of Rights pushes. I’m curious how much this has been inspired by what’s been going on in other republican-led states.
This type of document and even citing parental rights as a campaign issue, I think is pretty popular among Republicans in other states and even at the federal level and in Congress. Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri introduced a Parental Bill of Rights that would even allow parents to sue their own schools. That bill hasn’t gotten very far. It hasn’t even received a hearing.
And as you mentioned, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis even signed a Bill of Rights for his own state last summer. I think that it has become a very popular issue, but as we’ve talked about, critics really say that a lot of these rights are not new, and I think the executive director of ATPE even said it was kind of grandstanding or using students and teachers as political pawns and not really addressing what their real concerns are.
You said that this announcement was made in in Lewisville. Is there a Texas Public Policy Foundation meeting going on?
Yes, that’s correct. So Governor Abbott actually announced he would make this announcement on Wednesday at a Texas Public Policy Foundation meeting.
And the [conservative advocacy group] has actually have already published their own parental rights as well, with some similar tenants on it. It doesn’t exactly align with Governor Abbott’s proposal.
I want to understand how this would be enforced. And can the governor unilaterally decide that he’s going to add this Texas Bill of. Rights. It seemed like some of this would require changes the Constitution.
I think most people know that a change to the Texas Constitution requires a lot more than just the governor announcing some kind of a document that would require support from Republicans and Democrats. So this isn’t a change to law he’s announcing. This is what he believes should be Parental Bill of Rights. But he would need support from the Legislature to implement some of these.
How much of this is tied to recent news reports about what Governor Abbott and other Texas Republicans have lamented – pornography in schools and in libraries? There’s been sort of a search of Texas public school libraries to find objectionable books, especially as they see it, related to LGBTQ issues. Also, what they characterize as critical race theory – this framework of policies and laws uphold systemic racism.
I think it’s all braided together. One of the items on his Bill of Rights talks about ensuring that any educator convicted of providing minors access to pornographic material would lose all of their credentials and state licensing. They would also have to forfeit their retirement benefits and be put on a do-not-hire registry list. So it all, I think, kind of fits together in the same vein. And we’ve seen nationally a lot of political pressure ramping up on schools over what students are reading in the classroom, what books are available in libraries and all kind of feels in that same vein.
How much of this is about the upcoming primary season? Governor Abbott has at least two opponents who are running clearly to the right of the governor himself.
I think a lot of it is related to that. On the Parental Bill of Rights document is a label that says “political ad paid for Texans, for Governor Greg Abbott.” And I think that much of this is tied up in Governor Abbott being in a competitive primary against other conservative Republicans who are trying to unseat him.