By James Brooks
Alaska Beacon 

Legislation would require parental approval of student lesson plans


Parents of Alaska public school students would be required to OK every lesson taught by their child’s teacher under newly revised legislation approved by the House Education Committee, but which is not expected to pass the Legislature this year.

Without permission, the student would be held out of field trips, extracurricular activities, and even basic lessons on algebra, biology and history.

The revised bill also requires school districts to make single-person restrooms available to students.

An earlier version of the bill, proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, would have prohibited transgender students from using their preferred bathroom if it didn’t match their “biological sex.” That idea was removed by the committee after hours of public testimony that saw a majority of speakers opposing the idea.

Under the new version, no one would be required to use a particular restroom.

An additional provision in the rewritten bill requires parents to give school districts “a list of all the names and pronouns” that can be used to refer to a student. This would prevent a transgender student from using a different name without their parent’s knowledge and permission.

The bill goes next to the House Judiciary Committee, and would still need to pass the full House and Senate. The Senate has expressed no interest in taking up House Republicans’ conservative social agenda.

The new language advanced on a 4-3 vote after Education Committee members on April 28 amended House Bill 105, which originally stated that parents would have to opt their children into sex-education classes rather than opt-out. The governor’s office labeled the measure a “parental rights” bill, and its details resembled those debated in majority-Republican states across the country.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, revised the bill to focus on curriculum after hearing hours of public testimony, mostly against the original version.

Ruffridge said he envisions parents being presented with a syllabus and being asked to approve it. “Here’s the plan for the next three or four months, here’s the books we’re going to read and the categories we’re going to discuss. Please let me know if this sounds good to you,” he said, describing a hypothetical process. “And then if there’s any changes to that … a permission slip goes out.”

“It’s just not practical,” said Lon Garrison, director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

He said it would create a huge administrative burden for school administrators and raises questions about what will happen to students whose parents opt them out of lessons.

Then, there’s the practical considerations — requiring parental approval for any changes would prevent teachers from incorporating new material during the school year.

“Right now, the curriculum is approved by the school board; it’s available for everybody to review. But there’s also additional materials that teachers can bring in as long as it’s aligned with the curriculum. And so every time that would happen, theoretically, if you read this bill, you’d have to get permission to do that,” he said.

On the seven-member Education Committee, four Republicans voted for the bill. The committee’s two Democrats and one independent voted against it.

Committee member Rep. Mike Prax, a North Pole Republican, said he thinks it was a mistake for states to mandate school attendance, a practice that began with Massachusetts in 1853. “That was the original mistake,” he said in committee.

“We should have asked ourselves: What crime did parents commit by allowing their children to turn 7, that they have to be sent to school?” Prax said.

Democratic Rep. CJ McCormick, of Bethel, the youngest member of the Legislature, grew passionate as he spoke against the bill. He graduated from high school in 2015 and said he ran for office to make life easier for kids like him. The House bill does the opposite, he said.

“I feel like this bill strips our state’s young people of the ability to make choices for themselves,” he said. “It denies them the ability to live with dignity.”

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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