After eighteen months of demonizing engaged parents as “domestic terrorists,” the Biden administration decided to change course, at least rhetorically. The Department of Education just launched the National Parents and Families Engagement Council to help parents “constructively participate in their children’s education” and to facilitate “strong and effective relationships” between schools and families.
Whether it’s an olive branch or a cynical political strategy, this move shows the Biden administration realizes parents matter. Yet is it really the parents who need help participating in their children’s education or building strong and effective relationships? Was it parents or the government school officials and their allies who broke the social contract that demands we listen to each other and respectively consider each other’s concerns? And what’s up with that word “constructively?” Who decides what constitutes “constructive participation”?
Would Northern Virginia mom Asra Nomani’s fight for Thomas Jefferson High School’s merit-based entry policies be considered constructive? The Fairfax School Board certainly didn’t think so.
What about the parents all over the country who begged for schools to be opened in the fall of 2020 or the dad who demanded school boards “figure it out!” when they delayed even further? Were those parents constructively participating in their children’s education? Many parents thought so, but the Biden administration tarred these parents as enemies of the state!
Consider the parents who showed up with their unmasked kids after Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin lifted the mask mandate and politely asked for their kids to be let into the school, only to have their kids suspended. Was that constructive on the part of the schools? How about Virginia father Scott Smith, who went to a school board meeting to demand answers about his daughter’s rape? Was his arrest a good way to create “strong and effective relationships” between parents and school officials?
We know the answers. We also know that the “parent” groups who have been selected to participate in this council aren’t representing parents at all. Take the national PTA, which endorsed this new council but did nothing to advocate for parents during the COVID school shutdowns and supported school district leaders for keeping the schools closed and students masked. Parents know the national PTA is an adjunct of the teachers’ union — they do the union’s bidding while telling moms to stay in the kitchen baking cookies.
Parents deserve a fresh start. But rather than offering a new government council, here’s what the administration should offer parents:
- An Apology! School administrators, school boards and the Department of Education should apologize for delaying the opening of schools. Parents witnessed the learning loss, mental health problems and suicides. A little contrition on the part of those who made these damaging decisions would go a long way.
- Stop Calling Parents Terrorists! The Department of Justice should immediately shut down the office investigating parents for speaking up at school board meetings. In addition, Education Secretary Cardona should issue a statement in support of parents and the new parent-led “open schools” organizations that have emerged as the real champions of parents and students.
- Public schools need to break up with the teachers’ unions! Parents know the unions worked tirelessly to keep schools closed and kids masked. Teachers should also demand reforms as well as the removal of union leadership.
- Follow the Science — for REAL! The Department of Education should launch an investigation on why the science was ignored on COVID transmissions in schools and mask efficacy. In addition, the DOE should encourage schools to further prepare for the next pandemic by creating plans and processes to deal with pandemic outbreaks and by prioritizing building improvements and better ventilation systems.
- Try Honesty. Parents want greater transparency. It’s time for schools to end “social and emotional learning” (SEL) programs where much of the critical race and gender theory is being taught.
If Secretary Cardona really wants parents to participate and hopes to develop strong and effective relationships, he should realize it’s not parents who need to learn to be constructive. It’s about the public school system and how public school officials treat parents.