By Gretchen Schuldt
The so-called “Parent’s Rights” bill pending in the Legislature probably does not stand a chance of getting past Gov. Evers’ veto pen, but still drew way more written public comments – 153 pages of them – than is typical for any sort of legislation.
There were about 100 comments in opposition to the bill, AB510, and 17 in support. Those numbers are estimates because some of the comments, filed with the Assembly’s Family Law Committee as public hearing testimony, were included twice in the record of the hearing. WJI tried to eliminate the second inclusions, but may have missed some.
The committee recommended adoption of the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote, which was followed by a 62-35 party-line Assembly vote in favor of the bill. Two Republicans, Loren Oldenburg of Viroqua, and Travis Tranel, of Cuba City, did not vote. The measure is now pending in the Senate. (The Senate companion bill is SB489).
A chart showing the sponsors of the bill is at the bottom of this post.
As a brief refresher, the bill would provide parents or guardians with 16 specific rights and would allow a parent or guardian to sue if any of the new rights are violated.
The new rights would include the right to:
The bill would allow parents/guardians who feel one of the rights was violated to sue "a governmental body or official" and, if successful, collect up to $10,000 plus any "reasonable attorney's fees and costs."
Here are excerpts from some of the submitted comments/testimony.
For adoption: In recent years, many parents have become more actively involved in the education of their children. Unfortunately, public school districts have not always respected parental rights. – State Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine).
Against adoption: This legislation proposal claims to be about parental rights, but is more truthfully about disrupting the processes, protocols, and programs of both private and public schools. It grants parents the power to interfere in the day-to-day affairs of education, dictating what educators are allowed to teach. …
We assert that this bill was created with the intention of censorship and has no connection with meaningful, constructive parental involvement or engagement toward improving community life. – Rev. Breanna lllene, director of ecumenical innovation and justice initiatives, Wisconsin Council of Churches
For: Like generations before them, parents today have a deep, and very personal interest in how their children are raised, treated, and educated, whether that be at home, by society and/or in school; this is particularly true with respect “what” and “how” their children are educated.
Unfortunately, in recent years, parental interests have not always been acknowledged, let alone, respected by public school districts; in fact, I’ve been informed by parents in my District that their rights and beliefs are often disregarded and ignored with respect to the education, healthcare, and overall well-being of their children. – State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).
Against: Schools have an obligation to provide safe and affirming learning environments for all students, regardless of their background. This legislation attempts to release Wisconsin schools from that sacred responsibility by singling out race, sexual orientation, and gender identity in school curricula, contributing to the stigmatization and isolation that youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth face far too often in their communities.
A.B. 510 asserts that “controversial subjects” require parental notice, and include a plethora of real-world topics, including information about sexual orientation, gender identity, racial identity, and racism. Furthermore, the bill allows parents to opt their children out of any class solely based on their religious or personal convictions. These egregious provisions make it clear that proponents of this legislation have no interest in preparing students for the real world or in encouraging critical thinking. – Courtnay C. Avant, legislative counsel, Human Rights Campaign
For: We assert that parents absolutely have every right enumerated in this bill — and even more importantly, as this bill appropriately states: “A parent of a child in this state has inalienable rights that are more comprehensive than those listed in this section, unless such rights have been legally waived or terminated.”
“Inalienable rights” are defined legally as rights that “are not transferable or capable of being taken away or nullified.” Our Declaration of Independence speaks of “inalienable rights” and acknowledges the source for those rights – our Creator God. Therefore, government cannot revoke or transfer them. – Jack Hoogendyk, legislative and policy director, Wisconsin Family Action
Against: In the case of students with disabilities, under federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1400 et. seq.) the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team make the decision on schools and setting within a district. Under both federal and state law, the parent has a right to be included in the decision, but they do not always have the final decision. This provision of AB 510 creates the real possibility that state and federal law could be seen as in direct conflict.
AB 510 references "parent or guardian" but is silent on whose rights must be followed when two parents with equal decision-making authority do not agree. Under circumstances where parents are divorced, it is possible one parent has sole authority to make educational decisions because they have been given "legal custody" or been designated the child's "educational authority" by the court. The bill does not include these terms.
In the bill, the remedy for violations is for parents to bring a civil action against the district. In several areas itemized as parental rights, this would go around existing due process for families some of which is authorized under federal law.
We are unclear if the provisions in this bill apply only to public schools, or if the legislature's intent is to extend all parents of students attending public or choice schools have these rights and remedies. The bill refers to "schools," however the provision about legal remedy authorizes a parent/guardian to bring a civil action against a "governmental body or official," which does not appear to include private schools or independent charter schools. – Beth Swedeen, Kristin M. Kerschensteiner, Patti Becker, co-chairs, Survival Coalition of Disability Organizations
For: It is unfathomable that parents need a bill such as this to protect their children when for centuries it was common sense that education and the type of education received would automatically fall to parental responsibility. For too long, parents have had to take a backseat to propaganda aimed towards their most precious resource, their children. It is time to put responsibility for the children in the school system back in the hands of those who know best — the parents. — Blaise and Karen Mahoney, Kenosha
Against: This is a bill that seeks to restrict educational freedom and censor “controversial” topics in Wisconsin classrooms. In reality it is a hate filled wish list for those that seek to punish freedom and diversity in America. Do we really need to punish a child for wanting to pick a nickname in school? At what point has helicopter parenting passed the point of satire? — Bob
For: In February 2022 I was invited to testify in front of the Senate Committee hearing on behalf of parental rights. I spoke about age-inappropriate materials, like The 57 Bus, that were available to our students, I asked why teachers, administrator and elected officials felt that they had the right to sexually educate our children with little or no consent. I asked why our elected officials, who are employed by We, the Parent to represent us, the administration and staff felt it was incumbent on them to have controversial conversations with our children without consent.
During this time, I contacted the local school Board President and school leadership with my concerns. I directly quote his answer to my question: “[T]he discussion we had months ago was to review the selection of library materials standards and how we can refine that to our community, not academia's standards. We commit to using transparency and communication to help our parents know what is in their kids backpacks. I believe this because there is no single standard for appropriateness, and I believe in the 1st amendment.”
I was left bewildered by this statement as distribution of pornographic materials to children and the sexual education of students without parental consent is in fact not protected by the First Amendment. — Alexandra Schweitzer, Republican Women of Waukesha County president, Parents on Patrol founding member, Conservative Women’s Action PAC Board member
Against: As a Christian, I find it abhorrent to manipulate the history and cultures that children may be exposed to, simply to satisfy the preferences of those who find such distasteful. It is our duty, as public educators and Christians to tell the truth, so that all are represented fairly. With this, comes the only path to a loving, equitable society. — Susan Donahoe, Christians for Truth member
For: The broad-based morals and values of respect and empathy of everyone, no matter gender, religion, nationality, or disability can happen and should. That DOES NOT mean a school district or teacher can decide to usurp the rights and morals of parents, who want to protect our kids from gender ideology fads and "sketchy" science. Lately, things have been deemed scientific because it earns gross profits, not because it's true, healthy science being instituted. We, the parents, have earned that right by choosing to become parents. If parents want to teach their kids about trending social and gender ideologies, they also should have that right within their own homes. These are OUR kids! We DO NOT co-parent with the government! — Denise and Matt Seyfer, parents
Against: Pretending that certain events did not occur when, in fact, they did serves no one. Our children must learn as a part of citizenship development to have conversations about difficult topics and to create their own opinions. To deny them this opportunity is to deny them our history and the ability to learn from our Mistakes. Banning books and denying history smacks of authoritarianism and reminds us of what happened in Nazi Germany during the Second World War when books were burned and history was twisted to justify the holocaust. We are better than this! — Claudette Hamm
Against: As a Wsconsinite, I am opposed to this bill because of the harm it would cause young LGBTQ students. As a member of the LGBTQ community who is only able to come out as an adult now because of my supportive and affirming community here in Wisconsin, I remember how painful it was to navigate my identity and experiences as a young person questioning my sexual orientation in the town I grew up in. Fellow classmates who dared talk about their experiences as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender were told that who they were was ultimately wrong or sinful. When I tried to speak up in my family, I was "prayed about" or challenged by adults who "knew better." I've been unpacking this pain for years and still have not come out to close family because they are unwilling to have these conversations.
This bill would further bury these necessary conversations that help our young people now figure out who they are and steal the language they need to navigate the world around them. Teachers need the ability to do their job, and this bill would stifle that. — Leah Rolando
The bill also drew interest from organizations. Registering in favor it were Stride, Inc., which describes itself as a “company that develops curriculum for elementary and secondary education and provides school management services to charter and other schools;” Wisconsin Family Action Inc.; and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
Registering against the measure were the ACLU of Wisconsin; the Human Rights Campaign, the National Association of Social Workers — Wisconsin chapter; Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin; the State Bar of Wisconsin; the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance; the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the Wisconsin Association of School Nurses; the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault; the Wisconsin Council of Churches; the Wisconsin Education Association; the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association; and the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association.
Bill Sponsors: AB510
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