What was once perhaps one of the most common dinner table conversation starters, the question, “What did you learn in school today” has taken on new meaning.
Seemingly, now more than ever, parents in public school districts locally and across the country voice their concerns at school board meetings in support of, or in opposition to, their children’s mandated public school curriculum.
Specifically, the impassioned disagreements tend to revolve around school districts’ proposed mandatory implementation of various progressive fields of study, such as critical race theory and diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives.
The debates are often heated, with school board members backing the initiatives being either championed by parents or found in their proverbial cross hairs. The political undertones of the school board meetings turned debates, are inescapable.
While many parents might consider the task of pre-reviewing their children’s school’s instructional materials to be daunting, others revel in the opportunity. Especially in today’s political climate and in the era of helicopter parents.
Regardless of where one falls on the issue, the recent heated debates and fiery school board meetings only highlight school boards’ need to be completely transparent with the communities that they serve about the content of the schools’ curriculum.
In fact, Ohio law provides for some degree of transparency. Ohio Revised Code Section 3313.212, entitled “Parental review of instructional materials, etc.” provides that: The board of education of each school district shall provide an opportunity for parents to review the selection of textbooks and reading lists, instructional materials, and the academic curriculum used by schools in the district. The board shall establish a parental advisory committee or another method for review, as determined appropriate by the board, to meet this requirement.
Notably, though, pursuant to this statute, parents are only provided “the opportunity to review” their children’s instructional materials and academic curriculum, not to approve or disapprove them (which would be a logistical nightmare). Further, the where, when, and how of such review of materials is to be determined by the various school boards.
But while this statute appears all encompassing on its face, problems may arise when parents demand to review the materials that schools use to provide continuing education to the teachers, or, educational advancement materials. As these materials may not fall under the definition of “instructional materials” or “academic curriculum,” some school boards may attempt to refuse parental requests to review such materials (perhaps by claiming that said materials are copyrighted and not subject to disclosure, as one Pennsylvania school district claimed in June 2021 to avoid disclosure of teachers’ racial equity training curriculum).
That being said, public schools that take such positions (pretextual or not) or that make it unreasonably difficult for parents who wish to review the school’s curriculum to do so, are merely opening themselves up to the suspicions and mistrust of the community they serve.
What was once the largely rhetorical question of, “What are these schools teaching our kids?” has taken on new meaning. In fact, for those willing to spend the time reviewing, that question can be answered with a simple response, “Go to the Board of Education and see for yourself.”
At the end of the day, transparency is key and in Ohio (as well as the majority of other states), parents (at least in the public school setting) have a right to know what their children are being taught in school. Likewise, school boards have a moral obligation and legal duty to be forthcoming and honest about the information being taught to our children.
Larry W. Zukerman is the managing partner of Zukerman, Lear & Murray, Co., LPA in Cleveland and Adam M. Brown is an associate attorney.
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