Sen. Kennedy Stalls Education Bill That Recognizes Parental Rights

LANCASTER, Pa. — Teachers encourage Dana Terry to examine the textbooks that her eight-year-old uses at Hambright Public Middle School in Lancaster, Pa.

“We've been very fortunate here. My daughter's teacher asked me if I could take a peek at my daughter's textbook. Which I did,” Terry said. “Were we to go into a more restrictive district, I'd want to know what the teachers were teaching my eight-year-old child.”

A Kansas congressman wants to give every parent in America the same right that Dana Terry has, because he himself was once refused the right to inspect his child's curriculum.

“There have been an alarming number of recent cases in which the rights of parents have been ignored, forcing them to go to court to secure the basic information which the Parental Freedom of Information Act provides,” said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan. “Parents should not have to go into the courtroom to find out what is going on in the classroom.”

Tiahrt's legislation, called the Parents’ Rights Amendment, was added to the education bill now making its way through Congress. It received no opposition in the House Education Committee and passed the entire House without any objection.

But when it reached the Senate, Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy put the brakes on the entire education bill. He expressed concern over Tiahrt's amendment, but didn't come out publicly against his proposal.

Kennedy serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“On the issue of protecting the constitutional rights of parents and guardians who may have religious objections, I have serious concerns with some of the proposals, but I'm confident that we can reach an acceptable agreement,” Kennedy said Oct. 30.

Why the Stall?

Rep. Tiahrt can't figure out why the bill has faced any opposition in the Senate.

“It's simply an amendment to get parents involved,” said Tiahrt's spokesman, Chuck Knapp, said. “Congressman Tiahrt doesn't think it's onerous for a parent to look at the child's curriculum, or to see their child's textbook, or to prevent them from taking a sex survey. These things don't seem too extreme.”

The legislation would restrict school administrators from forcing students to divulge their parent's political affiliations or beliefs. Schools also would be prevented from conducting non-emergency medical examinations without parental consent.

Knapp added, “Senator Kennedy would have to say why he thinks that parents shouldn't be more involved in their children's education.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeatedly stresses the primary role of parents in the education of their children. The Catechism states, “Parents are the principal and first educators of their children” (no. 1652), and adds, “The right and duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable” (No. 2221).

As well, the Catechism instructs that the state has an obligation to respect parental rights over education. “The state may not legitimately usurp the initiative of spouses, who have the primary responsibility for the procreation and education of their children” (No. 2372).

This same principle is recognized in Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which specifies, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

Through a spokesman, Kennedy, who is Catholic, maintains that no major disagreements over the stalled education bill remain.

“We're in the process of agreement,” said Kennedy spokesman Jim Mainley. “We are optimistic some thing will work.”

Mainley refused to elaborate on specific objections that Kennedy had to the bill.

He added, “There's no reason to sidetrack this bill by issues like this,” Mainley said.

But Knapp countered that Kennedy has already sidetracked the legislation because of Tiahrt's pro-parent amendment.

“We wouldn't have expected it,” said Knapp. “It's a little surprising that the Senate would not allow parents to be more involved in their child's education.”

Perplexed Parent

Terry said that she simply does-n't understand how people could object to Tiahrt's recommendations.

“They complain about how they can't get parents involved. Then they discourage it,” Terry said “You can't have it both ways.”

But Michael Schwartz, a spokesman for Concerned Women for America, isn't surprised that politicians would object to Tiahrt's legislation. But he doesn't aim his frustration so much at Kennedy.

“The problem isn't that Ted Kennedy is a Democrat and that Ted Kennedy is a liberal. The problem is that the Democrats and most of the Republicans refuse to buck the teachers’ unions. They do whatever they're told to do,” Schwartz said.

The teachers’ unions have very different attitudes than rank-and-file teachers, he added.

“They are opposed to any accountability anywhere in the education establishment,” Schwartz said. “They don't want to be accountable to parents, and they don't want to be accountable to taxpayers.”

Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.

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