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A New US House Resolution Will Further Ignite Book Bans

Kelly Jensen

Editor

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Introduced into the US House of Representatives by Julia Letlow (R-Louisiana), HR 5 is a “parental rights” bill that would pour fuel onto the fire of book bans nationwide. The bill has over 70 cosponsors, all of which are Republican.It is expected that the bill will be voted on sometime this week.

HR 5 protects parental rights to the children’s education. The bill has five key elements:

  • Parents have the right to know what their children are taught
  • Parents have the right to be heard
  • Parents have the right to see the school budget and spending
  • Parents have the right to protect their children’s privacy
  • Parents have the right to keep their kids safe.

Nowhere does the bill specify or codify the rights children have to their education. It also does not articulate the ways these “parental rights” infringe on the First Amendment Rights of their children, educators, or young people more broadly.

The Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley praised the bill, stating that, “Children belong to their parents and it’s essential to codify these undeniable rights.” Louisiana is the same state where Attorney General Jeff Landry has created a snitch line for reporting teachers and librarians who retain “inappropriate material” in their classrooms and collections.

Despite the name and description, it blatantly overlooks the fact parents have always had rights when it comes to their children’s education. “Parental rights” have been a popular talking point among right wing politicians and “grassroots” groups like Moms For Liberty and No Left Turn in Education. This purposeful misnomer suggests parents have not been allowed to have a say in what their children learn or where they learn; however, parents have always had rights and until the beginning of the pandemic, some chose not to exercise them. Moms For Liberty has been caught in a blatant lie about “parental rights,” sharing misinformation about where and how parents can make a call on what materials their children have access to in school.

Each of the five “common sense principles” Letlow articulates are already granted to parents. Parents know what their children are being taught thanks to syllabi and the ability to talk to each and every educator with whom their child engages. Parents have the right to be heard in communication with those educators, with administrators, and with the school board through taking the time to reach out to them or show up to meetings. School budget and spending information is freely available through the district, and indeed, there are budget meetings annually at the school board wherein parents are invited to attend. Children’s privacy is taken seriously in education, and in the library, borrowing records are expunged regularly (this has, of course, been a source of contention for book banners who do not actually care about their children’s right to privacy–they want to know each and every book their child looks at and borrows).

As far as keeping children safe, perhaps gun laws would be a start, given that children are more likely to die from guns than anything else. Drag queens, teachers, and librarians do not even make the list of contributors to childhood death.

“Parental rights” bills like this one throw open the door to widespread panic and put a target on the backs of those who work in schools and in libraries. Public educators are already leaving the field in droves, and bills like this work to not only continue this trend of educator burnout but they work toward the ultimate goal of creating policies where parents have the “right” to send their children to private schools, parochial schools, and costly homeschool programs on the taxpayers’ dime. We’re already seeing this in several states, and HR 5 would expedite the process.

And when public tax money goes to fund children’s private education–education that is often built on white supremacist and Christian nationalist ideologies–the worse public schools become. Textbooks become outdated, educators are not up-to-date with the latest tools and techniques, and the result is that the most marginalized receive poorer quality education, further fueling panic on the part of parents who pull their (white) kids from the system, diverting more public funds from public resources.

HR 5 is built on a bed of lies and talking points being bolstered by dark money. Moreover, because of how disengaged most are from education, the language surrounding HR 5 is appealing. Who can disagree with codifying parental rights?

Unfortunately, the answer is this bill is meant to build more fear into the work lives of those simply trying to educate the next generation of adults. The more right-wing “activists” push these bills and receive support for them, the fewer rights students have and the more we break apart the already-fragile public education system.

So what can you do?

Write your House Representatives. You can borrow from the template here on writing your legislators, and highlight where and how HR 5 is a dangerous bill. Find out if your representative is one of the supporters of this bill and work toward removing them from their office. Continue to speak up and out, spreading the news about this resolution and the dangerous precedent it will set.