Parents Need to Know Their Rights to Reclaim America’s Schools

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Jul 22, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Starting with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread school closures, parents got a firsthand look at their children’s education through virtual instruction—and they didn’t always like what they saw happening.

The parental revolt of 2021 toppled Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial election after he infamously quipped, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Frustrated parents propelled Republican Glenn Youngkin to the governor’s office in Richmond. Across the country, concerned citizens ran for school boards—and won. And today, parents are rightfully demanding information from their schools.

The Southeastern Legal Foundation is stepping in to help parents. Kimberly Hermann, the organization’s general counsel, spoke to The Daily Signal about parental rights and the resources available to them.

Listen to the full interview or read a lightly edited transcript below.

Rob Bluey: You’ve done some excellent work to give parents a handbook for what they can do to be engaged. Tell us a little bit more about that. 

Kimberly Hermann: Actually, a couple years ago, it was pre-COVID, we started to see this issue of woke education pop up across our country. First, we started to see it in the colleges, and then once we as parents, I’m a mom of two littles, actually had a front row seat to what was happening in the schools through virtual learning, we saw that our kids were being indoctrinated with a lot of racial programming that actually was teaching them to pit each other or pit one another against each other based on the color of their skin. And we knew at Southeastern Legal Foundation that we had to get into action there.

And so, we started working with people to file lawsuits across the country and also to create things like a parent guidebook, so that parents can actually have the tools to educate themselves and to fight on their own when maybe a lawsuit isn’t appropriate or the facts don’t justify it yet. 

Bluey: For many of us, we saw this firsthand in 2020, in part because kids were home or were spending a lot more time with them, maybe observing what was going on in the classrooms. Also, we had everything that happened in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, but this has really been going on much earlier, maybe it just wasn’t on our radar. As you’ve done work on this, tell us about the history and how this came to become such an important part of public schools’ curriculum, disturbingly so. 

Hermann: To understand that, it really does go back to the 1960s when you look at the civil rights movement and there’s a faction in the civil rights movement that really wanted to undermine our country and undermine our Constitution. And when their arguments didn’t win the day, they went into the academy and that’s really where you can take a stakeholder, right?

As you build it into the education system and you teach the teachers critical race theory, which really is the idea that our country is based on white supremacy and that the only way to end that is to undermine our Constitution, undermine our legal system. If you actually pick up the books that are called “Critical Race Theory,” this is what they teach. And so, they’ve been building it into the schools for decades through the teachers. 

So, teach the teachers this, then they teach the kids this. And like you said, it really didn’t come to light where parents saw it until recently, but this is nothing new. It’s just come in many different ways and now they’ve really dug in deep during the Biden administration and they’re calling parents domestic terrorists. I mean, they are investigating parents that speak up and out against this, and it’s not going to end until we start winning in court and changing their laws throughout the country. 

Bluey: Let’s come back to that in a moment. But tell us a little bit about, for the parents who are listening, what they should be on the lookout for if they have a child who’s coming home and maybe there’s certain questions they should be asking them. And I think, as you indicated, it’s not just a casual conversation, it’s embedded in other subjects. I mean, it might come up in math and history and English and all sorts of places. 

Hermann: You’ll see math word problems that say things about race specifically: There’s 10 kids in the class and eight of them are oppressors, how many are white? Right? I mean, those are the type of word problems that you’ll see.

But so they just need to be looking at all of the curriculum and a lot of times parents can’t get their hands on it. And so, that’s been one of the hardest battles, is fighting for transparency.

It’s been great to see these laws change, but parents just have to keep on being diligent, get the documents, get all of the textbooks, if your kids even use them. Many schools don’t use them anymore. Get the iPads, log onto their Canvas and see what they’re actually looking at in the classroom.

Because like you said, it’s coming in every single subject across the board, in every single grade, including down to segregation.

We actually have some schools, one that we have sued that has mandatory affinity groups. And they put the white teachers in one room, the non-white teachers in another room, teach the teachers different lessons on racial programming that they then take into the classroom and they mimic what they did in the teacher training.

Segregation was outlawed over 70 years ago. So, obviously, if you see segregation in your kids’ classrooms, ask them about that. It needs to stop and you guys need to take action, we all do. 

Bluey: What rights do parents have when it comes to trying to access curriculum and get more information?  

Hermann: They can use their state FOIA laws, which is one way to get them. But what parents don’t realize is that they don’t even have to do that. There are federal laws out there that require schools to give over all instructional materials.

So, this is obviously with public schools, since they’re federal laws for schools that get federal funding, but you can ask for any instructional materials, which includes teacher trainings. It includes workbooks, it includes everything except for tests. So, your school doesn’t have to give you tests or standardized testing materials, but everything else falls under these federal laws. And so, you do have a right to get all of it. 

Bluey: And what are some of the cases that you’ve brought to help parents either get access to this information or to maybe push back on some of the policies that we’ve seen implemented? 

Hermann: Our friends at Goldwater Institute have brought some really great cases dealing with public transparency when the parents have filed FOIAs and they haven’t been able to get the documents.

What we’ve been doing at Southeastern Legal Foundation is submitting some of our own FOIAs. And when the schools and specifically the school board associations don’t want to give us those documents, we have filed suit in several states on that issue.

But really it’s just helping the parents understand that when they get a bill or when they’re told, “Hey, the only way you can get these is by giving us $150,000 for the time,” that’s not reasonable and sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing that you do have the rights to stand up.

And again, they have to give them to you outside of state FOIA laws and a lot of these school districts don’t even realize that. So, bringing that to their attention is really key.

Bluey: And what recourse do parents have for private schools or religious schools that may not be subject to some of the same standards as public schools?  

Hermann: It’s really challenging when you’re talking about private schools because these parents sign contracts and basically saying the schools can largely do whatever they want. I actually am a private school parent. And so, I’ve seen those contracts up close and personal.

But again, it’s talking to your board of trustees at the schools, that’s the No. 1 piece of advice that I give private school parents. A lot of times they don’t know what’s happening in the classroom in the private school. So, make sure that your board knows it, find your allies on it, find your allied teachers, and hope is not lost for the private schools that have brought this in.

We’ve been really fortunate, we’ve seen a lot of religious schools reject this, but it’s also a matter of, are they religious in name or are they truly a religious school? And that’s another discussion. 

Bluey: Are there particular states that are doing things well and you would point to as good examples and others where maybe you’ve had to press the legal case a little bit more strongly? 

Hermann: Florida’s doing some really good things that we’ve all seen. They’ve passed some legislation. We’ll see how it ends up standing up. But the transparency legislation that we’ve seen there is great.

We’ve also seen a lot of action out of Missouri, specifically with the Missouri attorney general.

So, a lot of state attorneys general have powers to actually investigate these school districts and to enforce federal privacy laws. And many of them, some of their offices don’t even realize it, but in Missouri, we’ve actually filed several requests for investigation and Attorney General Eric Schmitt there has taken action and has launched those investigations for things like surveys that ask kids about their sexual behavior, their sexual activity, their parents, what’s happening in the school, their mental health, all things that’s protected information. 

Bluey: At The Daily Signal, we’ve interviewed parents, one not far from the D.C. area, Merianne Jensen in Northern Virginia, who have had a difficult time just gaining access to school board meetings, being prevented from entering a room because of COVID restrictions, and things like that. What are some of the steps that either your handbook offers or that your organization is able to provide parents who might want to follow up on this interview and get more information about how they can be more active, I guess, in their kids’ life? 

Hermann: We have the guidebook that we published a few weeks ago that they can download from our website, SLFliberty.org. And when it comes to school board meetings, one of the things that we’re doing is we’re trying to figure out where these policy changes are coming from because it’s not just one school board.

We’re seeing school boards across the country that are basically silencing parents and preventing them from coming. And so, we have filed a lot of FOIA and several lawsuits to uncover that information to help parents know that they have rights.

But just keep going to your school board. You can always give us a call. There’s other great parent advocacy groups, Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education—three great groups. And if you’re not working with one of them, I just really encourage parents to get in touch with them also. 

Bluey: You mentioned earlier that this is not just a local issue, the Biden administration has gotten involved as well as the Department of Education when it comes to targeting parents, in some cases through the National School Boards Association. Bring our listeners up to speed on that particular aspect of the story and where things stand today. 

Hermann: We know now that the White House, the Department of Justice, and the National School Boards Association, were all colluding together to basically give parents a special tag.

Basically, when the FBI investigates something, they put different threat tags associated with those investigations. And there’s a specific threat tag now for parents. And I can tell you, several of them have come forward.

Several parents who have been investigated for speaking up at school board meetings have come forward. They blew the whistle. They have spoken with congressional committees. We have spoken with other parents who have been investigated, and this threat is real. 

You go to a school board meeting, you speak out, you threaten to vote them out, and then the next thing you do is you have the FBI calling you and it is very scary. But there are attorneys, there are groups out there like us and some of our friends who can help them through that process and just don’t let them deter you.

But at the end of the day, the threat is real from the Biden administration. They really aren’t playing around in the sense of when they said they were going to investigate parents and do everything they could to silence us, that’s what they’re doing. 

Bluey: In your experience in talking to some of these parents, are the FBI questions and the investigations warranted? Or is this really a gross overreach on their part? 

Hermann: So far, none of the ones that we’ve talked to are they warranted in any way, shape, or form. We’ve seen video evidence of what’s actually happening at these meetings. And the questions a lot of times are from the field officers. And you can tell largely that they don’t want to be doing this necessarily, they’re people of their communities at the end of the day.

But all of these threats run through D.C. All of the threat tags come from the D.C. office. And so, we know that it’s coming straight from the White House and from the top down.

And the writing was on the wall, back in 2019, there was a teacher that filed an Office for Civil Rights complaint, basically saying, “Hey, my district’s segregating students and it needs to stop.” The Department of Ed said, “You’re right. It needs to stop.” And two days, three days after [President Joe] Biden was inaugurated, the administration withdrew that finding.

So, we have an administration that thinks that segregation in schools is OK. So, they’re certainly going to go after parents who are trying to stop that. 

Bluey: Thank you for the work you’re doing to help parents. It’s one of many issues that you work on at the Southeastern Legal Foundation. What are some of the other big battles, big fights that you have going on right now that you’d like our listeners to know about? 

Hermann: Outside of the school world, we do a lot to just stop the Biden administration from overreaching, whether it’s suing the [Environmental Protection Agency] or suing for property rights, we do a lot of property rights work. And we also do a lot of work to help college students on their campuses, through our 1A Project.

So, we train thousands of students a year on their rights and we’re actually working on taking that programming and turning it into programming for parents and working with some of the advocacy groups that I mentioned before to bring that similar training, so that parents can arm themselves better and can get out there and fight. Because if we don’t save the schools now, then it’s going to be lost for our generation, our kids’ generation. 

Bluey: Speak a little bit more about your work on college campuses. I mean, so many of us I think have seen the videos and other examples that are, frankly, appalling because college campuses should be the place where you are able to have the freedom of expression and have those tough conversations. And unfortunately, it seems like that’s becoming less and less so with the case today. 

Hermann: All of the silencing really did start on the college campuses. And so, it was probably about eight to 10 years ago that we started to work with college students to help fix their policies, right? There’s a number of groups out there that do this.

Our focus is mainly on the litigation aspect of it, until we learned that these college students don’t really understand the First Amendment. So, they’re out there and they want to fight for it, but they don’t understand what their rights are or maybe even why we have a First Amendment. 

And so, we’ve worked both with The Heritage Foundation and with Leadership Institute to bring this programming, like I said, to thousands of students across the country [with] small webinars, where we actually go through their policies with them, help them understand how they can fight back if they need to be changed and how they can just speak freely on campus.

And we really encourage them to not silence others either, right? Not everyone’s going to agree with you, but if you’re going to fight for the First Amendment, let’s let everyone speak and let’s just bring civil discourse back to our college campuses. 

Bluey: That’s great advice, Kim. Thanks for the work that you’re doing at the Southeastern Legal Foundation. We’ll be sure to include a link, both in the transcript and the show notes, for the parent handbook and other resources that your organization provides. Thank you so much for being with The Daily Signal. 

Hermann: Great. Thanks so much for having me. 

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