Legislative Update: Parents Bill of Rights (H.R.5) and The Bill of Rights for Parents and Students (H.Res.734)

On March 24, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Parents Bill of Rights Act (H.R.5), in a 213-208 vote. Introduced by Rep. Julia Letlow (LA-05), this legislation would explicitly outline the rights of parents as it relates to their children’s education. While H.R. 5 passed easily in the House, it is unlikely to pass through the Senate. Read on to learn more about key provisions in the Parents Bill of Rights and alternative legislation, the Bill of Rights for Students and Parents (H.Res.734), which was recently introduced by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1).

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Parents Bill of Rights

Educational/Budgeting Transparency

One of the main provisions of H.R. 5 is providing parents with easily accessible information about their children’s school, whether that be the school’s curriculum or annual budget and expenditures. In order to increase the accessibility of information, H.R. 5 amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to require local education agencies (LEAs) to make their curriculum (for all grade levels) available on a publicly accessible website. If an LEA does not operate a website, curriculum information must be widely disseminated to the public. Similarly, H.R. 5 requires states that have revised their “challenging academic standards” or learning benchmarks to provide a copy of those revisions on their website and widely disseminate them to the public. Schools that plan to eliminate gifted and talented programs must give parents “timely notice.” Lastly, H.R. 5 requires schools to provide a list of books and other reading materials contained in the library of their school.

In addition to provisions on educational transparency, H.R. 5 requires LEAs to include budgetary information (including all revenue and expenditures) for the LEA, and for each elementary and secondary school, in their yearly report cards.

Involving Parents

H.R. 5 seeks to amend the ESEA to explicitly state the rights of parents as it pertains to their involvement in the education of their children. H.R. 5 requires that parents be offered no less than two (in-person) meetings with each teacher of their child, and that parents are notified of these opportunities at the beginning of the school year. Additionally, H.R. 5 requires that parents be allowed to address their local school board on issues impacting education within their district.

Student Privacy Protection

H.R. 5 would amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 to outline parental and student rights as it pertains to privacy in schools. H.R. 5 would prohibit the sharing of student data without parental permission, and in all cases, prohibit the sale of student data for commercial purposes. Under H.R. 5, schools developing or updating their student privacy policy are required to engage parents in the development process.

In addition to provisions around student data privacy, H.R. 5 would amend FERPA to require parental consent prior to students receiving any medical exams at school, including mental health or substance use disorder screenings.

Student Safety

Lastly, H.R. 5 contains a provision that would amend the ESEA to require LEAs to provide parents with information on “violent activity” that occurs on school grounds or at school-sponsored events in which one or more individuals suffer injury. LEAs are required to notify parents in a “timely manner” following the occurrence of “violent activities.” In an effort to protect student privacy, notifications to parents of a “violent activity” shall not include the names or grade levels of any students involved.

Bill of Rights of Parents and Students

On March 10, Rep. Bonamici introduced the Bill of Rights for Parents and Students (H.Res.734) , “a resolution to advance an inclusive, aspirational, and affirmative vision for public education”. H.Res.734 serves as the Democratic response to H.R. 5, outlining the party’s priorities as it pertains to the rights of parents and students while in school. H.Res.734 outlines five pillars that should stand as the bedrock of America’s education system: a well-rounded education, authentic parental involvement, responsive and inclusive public schools, students’ civil rights, and education and democracy. If passed, H.Res.734 would express support for an affirmative vision for public education held up by the five pillars.

Parental rights in schools have become a contentious political issue, with debates on the topic ranging from local school boards up to the chambers of Congress. From the local level to the federal level, one thing remains clear, and that is the deep divide between Democrats and Republicans on the role of public education in students’ lives. In her opening statement at the House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on H.R. 5, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (NC-05) shared her reasoning for supporting the legislation, stating, “During the pandemic, parents saw firsthand how poorly our current K-12 education system is serving students . . . This legislation will protect the right of parents to know what their child is being taught in the classroom as well as their right to be heard.” Upon introducing H.Res.734 Rep. Bonamici shared her reasoning for introducing the resolution, stating, “Parental involvement is critical to developing and sustaining high-quality public schools, and we must do all we can to involve parents and break down barriers that prevent or discourage participation.”