The claim of “parents’ rights” that is being used to energize opposition to our schools is not only misleading but unlawful. Much like “states’ rights” is a dog whistle for racism, “parents’ rights” is a dog whistle for white supremacy.
Parents have always had the ability to know what was going on in the schools. The law says so.
Each school board must consult with parents to develop a policy to promote parental involvement. (A.R.S. §15-102) Parents have access to the school’s library collection and materials borrowed by their children. (A.R.S. §15-102 (3)) Parents can object and withdraw their child (A.R.S. §15-102(4) and A.R.S. §15-113) and must give written permission for sex education. (A.R.S. §15-102(5)) Parents may learn about all clubs and activities and what their rights are. (A.R.S. §15-102.7 & 8).
Contrary to the attempts of the MAGA crowd, public schools cannot discriminate on the basis of religion by statute (A.R.S. §15-110) and by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the State Constitution (Article 2 §12). Schools must give advance notice for all video, audio or electronic materials that may be inappropriate (A.R.S. §15-113). A school can’t take a survey without parent’s permission. (A.R.S. §15-117) Sports are limited to males and females. (A.R.S. §15-120.02) Sexually explicit material is already prohibited (A.R.S. §15-120.03) unless it has serious education value or possesses serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value which is the Supreme Court definition of obscenity that is not protected under the First Amendment. Parents have access to all records. (A.R.S §115-143) Parents have the right to review the library collection (A.R.S. §15-189.07) including all new books. (A.R.S. §15-721-722)
What more could they want?
Normally, teachers beg parents to come to parent teacher conferences, to events, to discuss their child and the curriculum. It is the parents who chose not to come. Schools send home slips about all manner of things happening. Mostly they are ignored.
Children need parental involvement but for many reasons – too many jobs, no transportation, no childcare – some parents who would like to can’t come. But the parents complaining at the school boards in Paradise Valley, Peoria, Chandler, and Scottsdale are not those parents. They are the privileged ones who have the time and ability to come to school and to participate.
However, from the outrageous claims made, these parents do not actually know what is taking place in their child’s classroom. They don’t want participation or collaboration or communication – they want control to make the schools into their own image of a mythical past and determine the education for other people’s children. The way to get control – tell the “big lie” and then build a propaganda campaign based on the lie you told.
In addition, children have their own right independent from their parents. The Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force in September 1990, and has been ratified by 195 countries, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. Two countries, the United States and Somalia, have not ratified the Convention. But since it is so widely ratified, it has become customary law which the U.S. is obligated to follow whether we ratify or not.
The convention recognizes that while children need special care and assistance, as they age, they need to learn to be independent and be brought up “in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity, …”
Article 2 of the Convention focuses on non-discrimination of any kind; Article 3 makes clear that the touchstone is the best interest of the child (not the parent); Article 5 ensures that while the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents are respected, they must be carried out in light of the evolving capacities of the child recognizing the rights in the Convention; Article 9 protects children by ensuring they are not separated from parents unless there is abuse or neglect; Article 12 assures that a child who is capable of forming their own views is given the right to do so and that those opinions are given due weight according to the age and maturity of the child.
Many of the rights of children mirror those of adults e.g. right to expression (Article 13). That right includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice. Parents may not prohibit children from reading books especially as they age.
A child is to have freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. (Article 14) Parents can provide direction but may not prohibit the child if the child chooses a different path than the parents. A child has freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly. (Article 15) Restrictions can be established the same as they are for an adult. Article 16 ensures that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on honor and reputation. Bullying and name calling requires legal protection. A child is to have access to mass media to ensure a diversity of national and international ideas. In fact states are encouraged to promote exchange of information and production and distribution of books. Guidelines are acceptable for protection of children but not to prohibit them from ideas the parents don’t like.
Article 24 focuses on health; Article 27 focuses on standard of living which includes physical, mental, spiritual, moral, and social development for the child in the world we live in; Article 28 recognizes the right to education while addressing access and affordability, discipline, international cooperation, and the facilitation of access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. That does not include banning words, books, or famous sculptures. Article 29 hones in on developing the child’s personality, talents, and abilities to their fullest. That includes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that are the basis of a peaceful society the world over. While the child’s parents and cultural identity and language must be respected, the child must also be prepared to live in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national, and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin as well as the natural environment.
Article 30 is clear that if a child is a minority in that society or indigenous, the child shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language. The child has the right to play and rest and participate in culture and arts (Article 31) and must be protected from exploitation in labor or sex or harmful work (Article 32 and 34). No child shall be tortured or treated badly nor be subject to capital punishment or life imprisonment. If they are punished under the criminal system, they still must be treated with respect, separated from adults, and have full legal rights. (Article 37)
In Arizona we recognize these rights as well. We have an entire chapter in the law, Chapter 8, about child safety to protect children from their abusive parents and to ensure that children have legal rights and competent care in the juvenile court system. When parents are divorcing, we have an entire section on how to best determine custody and visitation to protect the child. (A.R.S. §25-401 et seq) We have another section on how they must be supported (A.R.S. §25-500 et seq, A.R.S. §25-1202 et seq), and another on what to do if the parents never married (A.R.S. §25-801 et seq), and even a section on how to deal with interstate and international battles over children (A.R.S. §25-1001) – all with the focus of the child’s best interest – not the parents.
The parents’ rights do not override the child’s rights to be safe and to develop. Yet we have legislators threatening to shoot people and others seeking to ban books they don’t like, none of which is in the best interests of any child. The goal is to undermine the public education system so that taxpayer dollars can be rerouted to religious schools. A common public-school education teaches people to interact with others and raises the benefits of civic participation, including voting and organizing – precisely the activities the MAGA crowd seeks to suppress. Much research since 1959 shows that a higher education level leads to more democratic policies. That is precisely why “parental rights” that seek to limit education is against democratic ideals and is a danger to our democracy.
Dianne Post, Legal Director, Secular AZ