By Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2022 •
Current attacks on public education are perversely trumpeting a “parents’ bill of rights” as a tool to actually silence the voices of families who want equity, justice and a full and complete representation of the histories and contributions of heretofore ignored, erased and underserved populations.
Parents of color, families with low incomes and immigrants want all children to receive an excellent education. It dominates their vision of the future. Rather than lobbying at a board meeting to limit what other children can learn, most families want schools to understand their expectations for their children’s education to prepare them for college.
Parents already have rights – often declared in state policy – to influence education for the common good because public schools belong to their families and communities. And public schools regularly seek ways to engage with their families. But a new wave of “parents’ rights” bills aim to do the opposite.
In contrast, IDRA offers four recommendations for schools to strengthen and amplify family voices in public education below.
Focus on Intergenerational Engagement to Pursue Education Equity
Many of the new parent bill of rights initiatives focus on the rights of a few parents to direct education at the expense of students and most parents, negating the role of the trained educators. This approach does not recognize the rights of other family members, students and the larger community to pursue excellent education. When school districts engage authentically with families, students and communities, they are able to create collaborative spaces where equity goals can be pursued together.
For example, this past year, with support from IDRA as an external resource and supporter, families in one community joined with their school district to organize and hold conferences for families bilingually about topics determined by the families and students. During the events, students presented to the families about beneficial and successful programs, such as a biliteracy program that spans from kindergarten until high school graduation. The families celebrated the district’s support for students to maintain their home language and culture in tandem with full literacy in English (Montemayor & Salazar Gonzalez, 2022).
Purposeful intergenerational engagement can help districts create long-lasting educational equity beyond what is possible if schools only respond to complaints of a few parents or outside interests.
Create Pathways to Expand Curriculum by Drawing on Families and Their Experiences
Several of the parents’ rights bills explicitly seek to limit or cut entirely what students may learn about topics related to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups. School districts should encourage parents to be involved in curriculum changes but in ways that foster broadening the diversity of the curriculum that students may access.
For example, IDRA worked with families in a community who are mostly economically challenged and Spanish speakers to inform the teaching of Mexican American Studies courses. Family members and students documented family histories, ancestries and the contributions of their culture and group (Montemayor, et al., 2022). The family members universally expressed pride at their family stories becoming part of students’ contribution to the class.
By incorporating families and communities, curricular options for students can be expanded and enriched for the benefit of the entire school community.
Leverage Community-Based Organizations to Connect with Families
Because of the buzz of the recent parents’ rights bills, school systems may tend to focus only on a subset of stakeholders in the education system: a few loud parents of school-age children. By taking this approach, districts may miss out on the experience and value of other community members who have a vested interest in the success of schools.
For example, IDRA and our Southern Education Equity Network worked this year with a number of community organizations in Georgia to collaborate in speaking for state policies that promote culturally sustaining schooling. Many groups supported students, families and educators to testify in the state general assembly against such proposals as classroom censorship and book bans. The Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, one of IDRA’s SEEN partners, was a leader of these efforts. The coalition is a collection of young people ages 14 through 23 across Georgia committed to justice and representation.
In another example, IDRA worked with ARISE Adelante when community members became concerned about the graduation requirements in Texas. With ARISE’s help, the schools improved school-home communication about these issues, and the community organizations established an information campaign to ensure all students had access to college preparation.
Community-based organizations often have the pulse of the concerns of the community and can be crucial allies in creating educational change.
Promote Students’ Rights Alongside Parents’ Rights
While parents have significant rights to direct the education of young people, students also have rights that should be promoted and protected. IDRA worked with students this year who articulated that they should have the right to learning environments that are free from discrimination, the right to environments that accept and value all aspects of their identity, the right to curriculum that lets them learn about themselves, and the right to the teachers and courses that teach accurate and truthful history (Montemayor, 2022). These rights of students must be balanced with those being asserted by a few parents with political motivations in order to create a fair and just school environment.
IDRA’s experiences with families of underserved groups illustrate the power and importance of the family influence and voice to produce education policy and practice that is inclusive and sensitive to the many cultures and histories that make up our communities. Cultivating student, parent, family and community rights to excellent and equitable education should be the goal of further policy and legislative efforts aimed at increasing educational rights in schools.
Bahena, S. (November-December 2015). “Our children could get lost” – Rio Grande Valley Parents Gather to Discuss Policy Implications. IDRA Newsletter.
Montemayor, A.M. (January 2022). Parents Urge Schools to Enrich, Not Exclude. IDRA Newsletter.
Montemayor, A.M., & Salazar Gonzalez, A. (March 2022). Families Celebrate Excellent Biliteracy Programs. IDRA Newsletter.
Montemayor, A.M., Carranza, E., Flores, G., Saldana, L., & Peralta de Jesús, J. (2022). Teacher and Family Observations on Ethnic Studies & Tips for Organizing in Support of Ethnic Studies, IDRA EAC-South Power! People! Plan! Building Ecosystems for Equitable Schooling Virtual Convening.
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is IDRA’s family engagement coordinator and directs the IDRA Education CAFE network. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]