Democratic House lawmakers on Thursday killed a bill that would have guaranteed parents’ “fundamental right to make decisions regarding the upbringing, education and well-being” of their children.
The parental rights bill, LD 1800, died after the House voted to kill it Thursday, with all present Republicans voting in support and all Democrats against. The Senate had earlier voted against the bill, also along strictly partisan lines.
Under this bill, parents would have been given the right “to access all information regarding the school activities,” including “all teaching or instructional materials, required textbooks, course syllabi, lesson plans and other teaching aids used in the classroom.”
LD 1800 also would have required schools to notify parents of the health care services they provide and “offer the option to withhold consent for or decline any specific health care service for the student.”
Schools would also be required to communicate with parents about any observed changes in their child’s “mental, emotional, or physical health.”
The bill would have directed school personnel to encourage students to talk to their parents about issues relating to their well-being, or to facilitate such conversations between students and parents.
This bill also would have required schools to provide parents of children in Kindergarten through third grade with a copy of any “well-being questionnaire or health screening form” before administering it to students.
Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford), the bill’s sponsor, testified before the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs that “LD 1800 is meant to be responsive to the times, to the outcry of parents, and reaffirm proper authority – that it belongs with the parents.”
“Because, despite the plethora of reasons that children are not succeeding in school, there is one overarching reason parents are standing up: schools have gone too far in shifting the decision-making power dynamic, taking control away from parents and giving it to the education bureaucracy,” Sen. Keim said.
“This shouldn’t be a controversial issue,” she said. “Parents and taxpayers have a right to know what is being taught to the next generation. And parents need to know if their child is experiencing a crisis.”
Representatives of several organizations testified in opposition to the bill during its hearing.
Holly Blair of the Maine Principals’ Association opposed LD 1800 on the grounds that it would complicate matters when there is disagreement between separated parents on what is best for their “shared child(ren).”
Dr. Sydney R. Sewall, testifying on behalf of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also expressed opposition to the bill.
“While the bulk of this bill focuses on parental assent to educational curricula, it
also eliminates any confidentiality provided to teens in school health and counseling settings,” he said. “As a consequence, it is unlikely that a teen who is hiding his or her struggles with substance use, mental health, or sexuality issues will seek help.”
Chris McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-ME), offered testimony in opposition to a slate of parental rights bills that were up for consideration this legislative session, including LD 1800.
In his testimony, McLaughlin lists off several reasons why “critics of these sorts of bills have argued that these ‘Parental Bill of Rights’ bills could be harmful,” including “undermining the autonomy of schools,” “limiting diversity and inclusiveness,” and “infringing on the rights of LGBTQ+ students.”
“These bills proposed before you today are both unnecessary and, frankly, offensive to the highly competent and dedicated educators of Maine,” he said. “Parents already have multiple opportunities to provide feedback in a more formal manner to their local school districts through public comment at School Board meetings and ‘open door’ policies employed at most schools in Maine.”
The State Legislature has now killed one bill after another this session that would have strengthened parents’ legal standing with relation to both children’s health and education, despite strong public support for curricular transparency and parental rights.