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House Republicans Pass a "Parents Bill of Rights" Bill

House Republicans passed H.R. 5, a "Parents' Bill of Rights," on Friday with only Republican votes. No Democrat voted for it and five Republicans voted against it. These were Reps. Andy Biggs (AZ), Ken Buck (CO), Matt Gaetz (FL), Mike Lawler (NY), and Matt Rosendale (MT). They believe that the federal government should not be involved in education at all. All but Lawler are members of the House Freedom Caucus. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Julia Letlow (R-LA). It will not even come to a vote in the Senate as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said it "will not see the light of day" there.

Very briefly, supporters say the bill establishes the following things:

These sound reasonable, but the devil is in the details. For example, it gives parents the right to get a list of all books in the school library, inspect all the books, and then demand that the school ban books that they don't like. The school doesn't have to do this, but administrators who feel intimidated by a mob of angry parents might decide that getting rid of the books is the safest course for them. Another provision bans schools from allowing students to use their preferred bathrooms, locker rooms, or pronouns without parental consent. This means that trans students won't be able to hide their feelings from their parents, something that some of them may be doing now for fear of punishment. Yet another provision gives parents the right to know if the school permits students to participate in sports reserved for the sex not on their birth certificate. Again, it doesn't ban such participation, but it requires schools to tell parents about their policies. They can't hide them.

In general, the bill gives parents the right to know many specific things, but does not give them the power to direct school officials to do or not do any specific actions. Obviously that would never work because what would happen if 10 parents demanded that a certain book be banned and 10 other parents demanded that it be mandatory reading? That said, schools tend to err on the side of accommodating the parents who are angriest, and so book banning is not a mere hypothetical issue that doesn't mean anything in practice. PEN America has reported that in the 2021-2022 school year, 1,600 books were banned from schools and libraries, largely in Florida and Texas. Most dealt with race, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

There are numerous other controversial provisions and a few that are not really controversial, such are forbidding schools from selling their students' data and encouraging schools to teach the Holocaust and get broadband Internet. (V)

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