Rep. Jake LaTurner parroted rhetoric about parents’ rights. They have responsibilities, too.

August 11, 2022 3:33 am
In the past nine months, hundreds of books across dozens of states are being banned at an alarming rate. A majority of the bans feature books written by authors who are people of color, LGBTQ+, Black and Indigenous, and feature characters from marginalized groups. (Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner has called for a parents' bill of rights. But parents also have big responsibilities, writes Chris Huntsman. (Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Chris Huntsman taught in Kansas schools for 36 years.

I write, as a retired teacher, to dispute U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner’s proclaimed need for a parents’ bill of rights from his weekly email update earlier this summer. In fact, they are not even his bill of rights, as they come from the office of Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Apparently, his constituents from the 2nd District in Kansas have not asked for these.

I feel exasperated because he has exacerbated parental demands and the Kansas Legislature’s recent proposals, such as making it easier to ban books, posting all curriculum and sources online, and fighting against masking and quarantines, along with a host of other things. It is disingenuous for him to imply that there is a problem with Kansas schools, when there is not.

Did you know McCarthy’s parents’ bill of rights mirrors JFK’s Consumer Bill of Rights from the 1960s? I taught these for 36 years in consumer education classes.

These are important principles, and LaTurner is absolutely correct in saying that parents need to be the primary stakeholders in their children’s education. Sadly, in my 36 years of teaching, I saw many parents who did not take that responsibility.

The representative suggests that Kansas parents are powerless. They are not. The LaTurner-McCarthy Bill of Rights is already in place.

LaTurner is absolutely correct in saying that parents need to be the primary stakeholders in their children’s education. Sadly, in my 36 years of teaching, I saw many parents who did not take that responsibility.

– Chris Huntsman

But Kansas parents, including the LaTurners, have a RESPONSIBILITY to:

  1. Meet and know the administration and teachers, attend and participate in PTOs, site councils, district advisory committees. In my district, curriculum adoption materials are selected by teachers and administration, then samples are brought to site councils for review. Here is the parents’ chance to see! And they can certainly observe what their child brings home daily. 
  2. They have the right to address their board of education in public meetings, as per the agenda. But parents have the RESPONSIBILITY to follow the policy in resolving a dispute before taking it to the board.
  3. Schools publish proposed budgets annually before approval — in newspapers and online. Parental RESPONSIBILITY is to do the research, ask questions and express concerns.
  4. Confidentiality has always been there; never doubt that. With social media and an online presence, there may be a leak, but not by school staff. School districts have purchased “grade programs” forever, and grades have been online. Social-emotional learning is a current buzzword. Programs also may be used to track social and emotional issues, usually in the form of discipline, attendance and failing grades so interventions can be made in a timely fashion. Parents have the RESPONSIBILITY to work with the school on social-emotional situations involving their children.
  5. I retired in 2008, and violent activity at that time was posted on the Kansas State Department of Education website. Schools now have practiced procedures when there is a security breach; they text parents for “lockdowns.”

I propose a bill of rights for teachers.

  1. Teachers have the right to safety. I was never assaulted, but today, many are. We have the responsibility to not take chances. Teachers should know procedures and policy on safety, and then take the responsibility, for example, to file for workers compensation if injured. Teachers are bad at this; districts say “just use your health insurance — one of your benefits.” Yet there are deductibles, co-pays and perhaps long-term potential for problems. Teachers should also file police reports if needed. Districts must enforce their bullying policy.
  2. Teachers have the right to information and the responsibility when being hired to know the school district’s reputation and history.
  3. Teachers have the right to choose and the responsibility to select the best employment for their situation.
  4. Teachers have the right to be heard and the responsibility to take concerns to the administration, school board, and to file appropriate grievances or claims per incident following their contract and state law.

Schools work best when parents know their responsibilities and when we value our teachers. Cookie cutter solutions copied from leadership in Washington, D.C., won’t make Kansas schools better. LaTurner should aim higher.

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Chris Huntsman
Chris Huntsman

Chris Huntsman taught in Kansas schools for 36 years, from 1970 to 2008, when she retired. She taught in three school districts in northeast Kansas; one was USD 501. She served as the NEA-Topeka president for seven years. She also served the retired Kansas NEA members as their president from 2015 to 2019. She was the voice and face of retired teachers testifying in the Kansas legislature, mainly on KPERS issues.