Statehouse roundup, 2.22.23: Parental rights bill sails to House floor

After unanimous and sometimes emotional testimony, a parental rights bill is headed to the House floor.

On Tuesday, House Education Committee members heard from a procession of parents, who said House Bill 163 would make parents know what is happening in their children’s school.

One parent, Amy Henry of Nampa, said her 12-year-old daughter was harassed and bullied in her school — and school officials never let her know. “I think I should have been notified when my daughter was injured.”

Legislators and students from Longfellow Elementary School strolled around the State Capitol as a part of the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health’s Steps for Schools walking challenge. (Darren Svan/Idaho Education News)

Boise parent Jennie Jensen was one of several parents who complained about an explicit mental health and behavioral survey conducted in schools. She said she completed an online opt-out form for her daughter, and followed up with a call to her daughter’s principal. But she said the junior high school still administered the survey, due to a glitch on the school’s end. “They opted my kid in even though I opted my kid out.”

Canyon County parent Chaleena Dean said her child, a trauma victim, was enrolled in a sex education curriculum; she didn’t receive an opt-out form until it was emailed to her during the second class. “I could have saved so much damage to my child.”

HB 163 asserts parents as “primary stakeholders” in education, and spells out several safeguards. The list includes the following:

  • Parents and guardians would have access to a student’s education and health records, unless the record “relates to physical abuse, abandonment, or neglect by the parent or legal guardian.”
  • Parents must give their consent for any health screening or well-being questionnaire.
  • Parents would have “reasonable access” to their child’s school, and would be able to observe a class with a principal and teacher’s approval.
  • Parents would be notified if their child is questioned by a school resource officer or law enforcement officer, “unless the child is a victim or suspected victim of physical child abuse.”

State superintendent Debbie Critchfield testified in favor of the bill — and said, in a conversation with school superintendents Tuesday, she was told repeatedly that districts are already doing what the bill would require.

The goal, Critchfield said, is to set a minimum statewide parental rights standard.

After public testimony, lawmakers from across the political spectrum took turns praising the bill.

“I wish this weren’t necessary, but I believe it is,” said Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Said Rep. Soñia Galaviz, D-Boise, a teacher, “We are — as teachers — partners, allies, advocates.”

HB 163 will next go to the House floor, after the committee’s unanimous vote.

After the roll call, House Education chair Julie Yamamoto praised the outcome. “This is how legislation should work,” said Yamamoto, R-Caldwell.

Longfellow Elementary students talked with Legislators Wednesday as part of the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health’s Steps for Schools walking challenge. (Darren Svan/Idaho Education News)

House Education introduces another parental rights bill — and a new motto bill

On Wednesday morning, House Education introduced a pair of familiar bills.

Student clubs. The committee printed a bill requiring parental permission for all school clubs, and requiring schools to list all sanctioned clubs on their websites.

Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, has pressed this issue for several years, and the House passed a version of the bill in 2021. Ehardt said she made one significant change to the bill this year: Schools will not be allowed to turn down any “religious, political or ideological student club or organization.”

“In God We Trust.” House Education printed a reworked bill requiring schools to accept and post a donated poster or plaque bearing the motto “In God We Trust.” The bill replaces a previous version of the proposal, which passed in committee last week and had been poised for a vote on the House floor.

Both new bills could come back to House Education for a full hearing.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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