Since the government-imposed shutdowns of schools gave parents a clear view of what their children were learning in schools, curriculum transparency has become the key issue with parents reasserting their fundamental right to know what is being taught to their children. When parents tried to gain more access to what their child was learning, some school boards, administrators and even some teachers pushed back. Additionally, parents discovered a clear process for gaining access or discussing concerns about instructional material wasn’t available.
Somehow, over the course the 2022 legislative session, some in Des Moines have made the right of parents to know what is being taught inside classrooms a partisan issue. It is an odd stand to take. Parents, regardless of political persuasion, have a right to know what is being taught to their children.
While the vast majority of teachers in Iowa have no concerns with being transparent and providing information to their students’ families, that isn’t always the case. Good teachers will have no problem sharing their lessons and materials while working with parents; bad or ideologically motivated teachers and administrators, on the other hand, will be exposed to parental oversight and can be held responsible.
The ultimate goal of curriculum transparency legislation is to provide families with a tool for accountability. Curriculum transparency battles politics in the classroom from both the left and the right and keeps the culture wars out of the classroom. It lets kids be kids and lets teachers be teachers.
HF 2499 makes school districts and teachers post the syllabus, textbooks, related core materials and a list of instructional materials that will be used in the student’s classes. The school will satisfy this requirement simply by providing the parent or guardian access to the school’s classroom management software such as Canvas or Google Classroom. School’s that do not have a classroom management software system will have until July 1, 2023 to get up to speed.
As this discussion has evolved during the 2022 legislative session a couple controversial ideas have garnered a significant amount of interest. One is criminal penalties against teachers. The House Republican plan DOES NOT contain criminal penalties against teachers. Our plan gives teachers the opportunity to correct any oversights regarding the posting of instructional material. A second controversial idea was a potential requirement for teachers to post ALL material prior to the start of the fall semester in August and then again before the spring semester begins in January. The House Republican plan allows teachers the flexibility to post instructional material throughout the year as their lessons and material change.
The district also will provide a list of school library books. Again, this can be satisfied by allowing parent or guardian access to the online library catalogue. If a school does not have an online catalogue, they have until 2025 to comply. Parents will have the ability to review the list of books and provide to the school any titles they do not want their own children to check out.
School districts must post the process for the review of educational materials and the reconsideration or removal of school library books prominently on their website so parents know exactly what they can and should do. If the parent disagrees with the school board’s decision, or the school fails to take action on a complaint from a parent or guardian on either of the above, they can appeal to the State Board of Education.
None of these requirements places an undue burden on a school district or a teacher. But, if a teacher or a district decides to break the rules, there will be consequences. If it is found that a school is not being transparent and withholding information, the Department of Education has the ability to either impose conditions on their funding or withhold payment of funds. If the Department finds that a district is noncompliant, the department will allow the school 14 days to correct the violation and if they fail to do so, a civil penalty will be assessed against the district in an amount not less than $500 and not more than $5,000. The teacher who is not compliant will also be referred to the Board of Educational Examiners for potential sanctions on their license.
In contrast, some in the Iowa House have taken an approach that targets parents and their decisions as parents. Instead of supporting the fundamental right of parents to know what is being taught to their children, some have decided to punish parents with more government restrictions. Those restricted are as follows:
- A comprehensive list of every of television show the student watched during the preceding week
- A comprehensive list of every video game the student played during the preceding week
- A comprehensive list of the social media programs and applications the student used during the preceding week – including links to all of the content the student posted on social media programs and platforms during the preceding week
- A list of all of the student’s friends on social media
- A list of all slang terms and racial epithets that were used at least once per day in the student’s home during the preceding week.
- A thorough description of how the relationships among the adults in the student’s life are displayed in front of the student
- An accounting of the total number of times during the preceding week that an adult in the student’s home said something to the student that could reasonably be considered to be uplifting, motivational, judgmental, or demotivational
- A picture of the quiet space in the student’s home that is set aside for the student to do school work.
- A comprehensive list of the books the student’s parent or guardian plans to read to the student
- A comprehensive list of the books the student plans to read
- A comprehensive list of activities the parent or guardian believes the student’s household will take part in each day for the remainder of the school year.
Targeting parents who simply want to know what is being taught inside the classroom is as ridiculous as arguing that schools can’t teach kids certain material unless it’s kept secret.
House Republicans are listening to the parents who want more access to their child’s education while also listening to teachers on how to properly implement these protocols and processes. While some have chosen to oppose the fundamental right for parents to know what is being taught inside the classroom, Republicans, parents, teachers, and schools are working together to be transparent and involved in the education of their children.