When a group of parents in Chapel Hill, N.C., obtained the
materials for the school system's "multicultural action plan for the
promotion of respect for diversity," they were upset by what they
A required English course included works by gay and lesbian
authors that contained material the school board would not allow to
be read out at a public meeting, says John Reinhard, a biologist
whose son is a local high school student.
"If the salacious depiction of homosexual, sadomasochistic
behavior might be inappropriate for a school-board meeting, why
it be suitable for our children?" Mr. Reinhard asked a recent
hearing of a House subcommittee.
Opinions about what is or isn't appropriate for school use vary
widely. Some parents' groups have objected to students reading
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" because it ends in teenage suicide,
or Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" because it deals with witchcraft.
So a group of mostly conservative House Republican lawmakers has
responded to complaints from parents about the content of school
curricula, tests, and surveys, introducing the Parental Freedom of
The proposal would require states and local schools to let parents
review textbooks, manuals, and audiovisual materials used in the
classroom. In addition, parents would have the right to see any
testing materials administered to students, except for copyrighted
exams. The measure would also require written permission from a
parent before any student could be required to undergo any medical,
psychological, or psychiatric testing or treatment while at school,
except in emergencies.
In the event of a dispute, the measure provides for mediation and
arbitration at the school district's expense.
The bill's sponsors, led by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) of Kansas, say
they mean to clarify the 1974 Family Education Rights and Privacy
Act, which requires that parents have the right to their children's
"This legislation is about removing barriers from including
parents in their children's education," Representative Tiahrt says.
He says he introduced the legislation after "an alarming number" of
cases in which parents had to file lawsuits to gain access to
materials used in schools. "Plain and simple, parents should not
have to go into the courtroom to find out what is going on in their
Ahead of the curve
Some school districts already have these types of policies in
place. Jim Means, principal of Wichita High School West in Wichita,
Kan., told the subcommittee that public schools in his city allow
parents to inspect any instructional materials, including teacher's
"Need for this policy became apparent as district programs
approached sensitive materials, such as sex and AIDS education,
advisement programs, which included goal-setting and