Arkansas Parents’ Bill of Rights legislation pulled for amendments
Rep. Mindy McAlindon, R-Centerton, speaks on the House floor in February 2023. (Courtesy of the Arkansas House)
Both the chair and co-chair of the Senate Education Committee voiced displeasure Wednesday afternoon when they were presented a multi-page amendment to House Bill 1738 that wasn’t properly prepared.
Sponsor Rep. Mindy McAlindon, R-Centerton, said there were multiple amendments because she worked with the governor’s office to ensure there were no discrepancies between HB 1738 and the LEARNS Act, legislation signed into law in March that makes extensive changes to the state’s education system.
McAlindon ultimately pulled her bill from consideration to address some of the committee’s concerns.
McAlindon told committee members her bill, known as the Parents Bill of Rights, doesn’t create new rights for parents; it simply puts them in one place, which she said parents have requested.
“I hear from parents asking for a ‘parents’ bill of rights.’ They want to know that there is some place that they can go to find them,” she said. “That they don’t have to dig through code and find them.”
According to the bill, parents are entitled to review classroom materials and to remove their child temporarily from school if a class or school activity conflicts with the parents’ religious or moral beliefs.
HB 1738 also requires that by Oct. 1 each year educators make information about teaching materials and lesson plans available for parents to review if requested.
Multiple committee members worried that the legislation would place more burdens on teachers, including former educator Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.
“We don’t have enough teachers as it is, and I am just very much concerned about something else that might drive them from the classroom,” Chesterfield said.
McAlindon agreed with Chesterfield’s point that lesson plans are frequently adopted to meet students’ needs. The Republican sponsor said her bill doesn’t require schools to publish a year’s worth of lesson plans, so the information can “be a fluid, living document.” Teachers only need to present what they have “reasonably available” upon request.
Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, said it seemed like a lot of work for teachers to have all this information available if it didn’t have to be published.
Chesterfield said that while she supports parental involvement she’s concerned about how such a bill could be used against teachers.
“It’s troubling to me because I don’t want this to turn into a facade whereby we talk about the parental rights — you’ve got parents that don’t want you to say anything about anything that disagrees with what they think — and education is about the give and take of ideas,” she said.
Legislation focused on parental rights in education is not unique to Arkansas. The U.S. House of Representatives, for example, passed a Parents’ Bill of Rights in March that would codify measures in federal education law to give parents access to teaching materials, provide parents advance notice prior to medical or mental health screenings and mandate a standard number of parent-teacher meetings.
After about 30 minutes of discussion, McAlindon removed the bill from further debate; it is now listed on the agenda for the Senate Education Committee’s Thursday meeting.
The Arkansas Legislature is scheduled to wrap up its work Friday.
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