Letter: Parents' rights groups in schools, what do the buzzwords mean?

Posted 11/2/22

To the editor:

You may have noticed that so-called “parents’ rights” groups have popped up all over the country in the past year and have created controversies in school …

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Letter: Parents' rights groups in schools, what do the buzzwords mean?


To the editor:

You may have noticed that so-called “parents’ rights” groups have popped up all over the country in the past year and have created controversies in school committees and local legislators regarding everything from masking and vaccine mandates, trans policies, book banning, pronoun usage, “Don’t say gay” and the like.

Some school committee candidates are part of a local group called Parents United RI, or are otherwise supporting the same platform of “transparency” and opposing schools teaching “divisive” materials. But what is this group and what does all that mean?

While some claim Parents United is “nonpartisan” or “has people from all political backgrounds,” this is misleading. As of this writing, there is not a single Democrat included on the Parents United RI’s candidate slate. This is especially astonishing in a state like Rhode Island where there are more than three times as many registered Democrats than Republicans.

By their own words, Parents United is against the so-called “progressive” and “woke” agenda. They push the offensive lie that teachers are “indoctrinating” and “sexualizing” kids. Each of its candidates take a pledge to oppose any effort to teach lessons regarding “divisive” issues of gender or race.

What is considered “divisive” has been interpreted broadly to encompass any discussion of race, gender identity, or sexuality. In conjunction with the term “divisive,” the term “transparency” is also a favored buzzword of this movement. Christopher Rufo, the man largely attributed as instigating the national controversy against so-called “CRT” or Critical Race Theory, explicitly explained the Right’s messaging strategy in a tweet January 7th of this year, noting that the call for explicit bans on CRT is “overplaying their hand,” and he states, “By moving to curriculum transparency we will deflate [the Left’s] argument and bait the Left into opposing “transparency” which will raise the question: “what are they trying to hide?”

Accordingly, these right-wing groups have been pushing so-called “curriculum transparency” bills in legislative bodies across the country, including RI.

The ACLU has released a statement opposing these laws.  Think about that for a moment — the ACLU — an organization that has a long track record of valuing and fighting for transparency for decades — actually *opposes* these laws. That’s because, the ACLU states “[they are] thinly veiled attempts at chilling teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in schools.”

The ACLU statement continues “We've already seen nine states enact classroom censorship bills, and state officials are waging campaigns to remove books from schools that are by and about communities of color, LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. We are actively pursuing litigation to block these laws and policies. All students deserve to receive a high quality and inclusive education, free from censorship or discrimination."

It’s not just the ACLU raising concerns, but also educators across the country. The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals also wrote in opposition to the RI version of these bills, citing that teachers already dedicate tremendous time and commitment to lesson planning and that this law would “create an onerous, unnecessary, and condescending burden on our educators.” They continue, “wasting an enormous amount of time and energy to upload volumes of data which would not do anything to improve educational outcomes in our school would be a travesty.”

Another statement in the statehouse record objecting to the proposed RI bill argues that these bills “place a massive undue burden on already overworked public school teachers who are contending with large classes, outdated facilities, an abundance of documentation for standards, pandemic restrictions and other related problems,” and the last thing our overworked and under-appreciated educators need is “more paperwork to appease a handful of parents with a desire to micromanage their children's education.” These laws really seek “to create a path for parents to object to items they personally disagree with, particularly subjects related to race, gender, and sexuality.”

These are exactly the type of poor policy decisions that would exacerbate staffing shortages by consistently undermining teachers’ education and professionalism and this is exactly what we do not need or want plaguing our schools district.

While candidates are absolutely in their right to advocate for right-wing positions, they should be forthcoming with what they stands for, so that the voters can decide which candidates and ideas they really want shaping our schools and community.

Sarah Smalley


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