Senate Republicans issue a call to action for parents for Thursday public hearings

Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, talks about her bill, LD 1800, which will establish the rights of parents in the education and wellbeing of their children. Her bill is among a slate of measures involving parents’ rights and transparency in education that will be heard on Thursday, May 11, in front of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. (photo courtesy of Senate Republican Office/Mike Fern)

AUGUSTA – During a press briefing on Tuesday, Senate Republicans issued a call to action for parents to attend a series of public hearings on Thursday, May 11. According to a Gallup poll from 2022, more than half of all Americans have some level of dissatisfaction with the public education system, which has come under fire in recent years because of dropping test scores and issues involving parents’ rights.

“We’re really grateful for all the teachers out there for the work that they do with our children. It’s incredibly important work,” said Assistant Senate Republican Leader Lisa Keim, R-Oxford. “Today’s press conference really is highlighting the importance of that work and the importance of collaboration between parents and teachers and schools so we can get the best outcomes for our children in education.”

Keim referred to a nationwide Gallup poll conducted in 2022 that found 55% of respondents are either ‘completely dissatisfied’ or ‘somewhat dissatisfied’ with the U.S. education system. She cited other data that show parent involvement and better communication could help bridge the divide that has grown between some parents and educators.

“Parent involvement is the number one predictor for student success,” she said. “Parents are the number one reason for a child to succeed in school and in life.”

Sen. James Libby, R-Cumberland, stressed the importance of parents being included in conversations about their children. Yet the state recently passed rules that expanded the ability of school social workers and counselors to keep information confidential and parents in the dark.

“In effect, what we’re doing is we’re deciding somehow to treat students as if they are adults and treat students in a way that does not include their parents in decision-making,” he said. “I find it quite ironic, frankly, that we’re keeping that level of confidentiality in the treatment of difficult problems that students face.”

Citing examples where the student might be experiencing substance use issues or mental health concerns – and even the recent case where a chest binder was provided to a student at the Great Salt Bay School without the parent’s consent – he said the new rules would make the situation even worse.

“This whole idea that we’re not going to include parents, it’s disturbing. It’s distressing; and it’s something that we have to stand up to,” he said.

Keim backed up his point, saying schools should not be setting up systems to circumvent parents. In the case of Great Salt Bay, that circumvention has led to a lawsuit filed against the school.

“That type of medical treatment should not be allowed to children without their parents knowing,” she said, referring to her bill. “[LD 1800] is just saying that the parents have to be notified, they have to give approval.”

For Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, who is the House ranking member on the Education Committee, one of her bills, LD 1129, establishes that children’s rights are parents’ rights until they reach the age of majority.

“If schools have nothing to hide from the public, there should be no objection to increased transparency and parental involvement,” she said. “If schools demonstrate genuine transparency and clear communication, there will be less strife and angst at the local level and we may even see better academic results.”

In closing, Keim emphasized that Republicans value both teachers and schools. She encouraged parents and teachers alike to come to the public hearings on Thursday to testify. The hearings begin at 1 p.m. in the Education Committee, Room 208 in the Cross Building at the State House complex. Anyone who wishes to testify can do so virtually or in person.

“We believe that quality education is of paramount importance,” she said. “We need law that reaffirms parents’ fundamental rights and that places parents firmly in charge of their children’s upbringing, education and overall wellbeing while respecting and valuing the roles of teachers and schools,” she said.

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