In a recent campaign announcement, PC leader Heather Stefanson promised to protect parental rights in schools.
Specifically, Stefanson said that parents will have the right to be informed about curriculum, the right to be involved in addressing bullying, the right to advance notice about presentations from people outside the school system, and the right to consent regarding the use of any images of their children.
Critics typically responded in one of two ways. Either they claimed that this pledge was redundant since it was already happening in schools, or they suggested that this pledge was a “dog whistle” to bigoted parents.
However, these criticisms are self-refuting. If schools are already doing the things that the PCs promised, then it’s hardly a sop to bigoted people to entrench these practices in the Public Schools Act.
Consider, for example, the requirement that parents must give consent before any images of their children are made, shared, or stored. While it’s true that school divisions already have policies like this in place, specific details of these policies vary across the province.
Given the importance of protecting the privacy of children, it makes sense to include this right in the Public Schools Act. This way there would be a province-wide standard that applies to all schools.
Also, parents should have the right to know what their children are learning in school. While some critics dismissively pointed out that provincial curriculum guides are already available online, this misses the point. Most parents do not have the time to wade through hundreds of pages of documents for every subject.
Just as doctors must explain proposed medical procedures to patients, it’s only fair that teachers be required to communicate regularly with parents about what is happening in school. Suggesting that parents look up the provincial curriculum guides is no more acceptable than dropping a medical textbook in a patient’s lap and telling him to read it.
It also makes sense to entrench the right of parents to receive advance notice about presentations from people who are outside the school system. If these presentations have educational value, then there should be no problem sharing the information with parents. Otherwise, they shouldn’t happen at all.
The notion that promising to protect parental rights is some sort of dog whistle is patently absurd. It’s important to remember that parents, not teachers, are the primary educators of their children. This means that parents have the right to know what their children are learning in school.
It says something about NDP and Liberal politicians when their first reaction to a promise to protect parental rights is to accuse the PCs of pandering to bigots. However, there is nothing bigoted about wanting a direct say in what your children are learning, nor is it wrong to insist that parental rights be respected.
In addition, these changes will only go into effect after the government engages in consultations with parents, teachers, school trustees, and citizens. Anyone with questions or concerns about these changes should feel free to participate in this process. It would certainly be a better use of their time than engaging in baseless fearmongering like the NDP and Liberals are doing.
Respecting parental rights should be a given in our education system. This pledge is a step in the right direction.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.