WASHINGTON — Representatives in the Education and Workforce committee gathered to discuss leading issues in American education at a Wednesday hearing as debates about determining school curricula continue to dominate several state legislatures.
A variety of topics were debated, including concerns about communication between schools and parents surrounding LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum. Republicans expressed concerns about activist indoctrination in schools, while Democrats argued efforts to remove this curriculum pose a bigger threat to vulnerable youth in marginalized groups, who already face increased rates of suicide and other mental health challenges.
Chairwoman Melissa Foxx (R- N.C.) said she would champion the Parents Bill of Rights Act. The bill, which was introduced in the last Congress, would require local schools to share the curriculum with parents and allow parents to review the school curriculum and budget.
“Parents witnessed educators spreading political ideology instead of teaching fundamental subjects like mathematics and reading,” Foxx said. “It is time for the education complex to understand that children belong to their parents, not the state.”
Virginia Gentles, who serves as the director of the Education Freedom Center at the Independent Women’s Forum and spoke as a witness in the hearing, said parents should have power over their children’s education. She said most parents did not want their children consuming “radical gender ideology.”
In order to meet parental needs, Gentles said parents need to be informed of n their rights and consulted on federal funding. She said schools need to re-prioritize academic instruction and stop gender support plans.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said extremist misinformation spreads confusion and distracts from the young transgender youth who “need our protection.” He said these individuals face bullying and harassment and are targets of violent murders later in life.
“Now more than ever it is critical for us to rise up to support, not scrutinize trans and queer students,” Takano said. “All students deserve to feel safe, comfortable and supported in their schools so they can focus on their education.”
Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) said school districts and teacher’s unions have made efforts to exclude parents from conversations in recent years. He asked Gentles about the wedge gender ideology might drive between parents and their children, who responded by saying children are indoctrinated into thinking their parents are bigots when they emphasize biological identity.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis said that apart from the language barriers some parents face with their children, he was unaware of any programs that excluded parents from staying involved in their children’s education. He said he is working with schools in his state to communicate curriculum content in multiple languages to those families.
Polis, who served as another witness in the hearing, said he was unaware of any inclusions of gender identity in the elementary school curriculum in his state, countering anecdotal evidence presented by Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.). He said his priority was to promote academic instruction in math, reading and writing, regardless of the student’s identity.
“Involving parents is absolutely critical in success,” Polis said. “I’ve seen school leaders do inventory skills of parents and find ways parents can supplement and provide additional learning opportunities for kids.”
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said she spent more than 15 years as an active parent volunteer in public schools. She said she engaged in many conversations during that time and said parent and family engagement is “instrumental” in creating a safe, supportive school environment.
She said the greater crisis in American education is the effort to discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth.
“I welcome the opportunity to work with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to uplift best practices, evidence-based practices, in family engagement, rather than pit parents against their kid’s educators and schools,” Bonamici said.