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Education has become an important site for contentious issues, from parents’ rights to LGBTQIA+ rights to book bans. As Republican presidential candidates squared off for the primaries, education became a frontal issue despite not earning these individuals many political points. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in early September that takes aim at book bans in response to a school’s refusal to teach about historical figure Harvey Milk and the growing conflicts about course curricula related to race and sexual identities. Later that same month, a California judge blocked Chino Valley Unified School District’s new policy requiring schools to inform students who changed their pronouns. These issues have highlighted the importance of limiting parents’ rights in education and prioritizing student safety, whether or not it fits in with parental sensibilities.

Unless it constitutes negligence or harm, how parents want to raise their children outside of an educational environment should be up to them. However, if parents are to have any hand in the educational curriculum, it needs to be explicitly limited. There should be forums and methods for parents to contribute their thoughts and expertise, but the possibility of censorship and the restriction of information is too high to hand children’s education over to parents or government entities alone. Parents have no right to control the education of an entire school or school district based on personal, religious or political beliefs. Parent-sponsored censorship is still censorship. Educators need to be given more credibility and respect when it comes to deciding what these students can handle and at what point in their education since they are dealing with these issues in the most hands-on way. 

When it comes to curricula on sexual education, this is something that needs to be moderated and taught with respect to age. However, it’s not something that students, especially teens, should be denied. In reality, the majority of teens have sex prior to legal adulthood, and they need to be equipped with information that prevents the contraction of STIs, teenage pregnancy and cervical cancer. Typically, sexual education models operate differently as children age, starting with simpler or less controversial topics like menstruation, which starts during earlier ages, though that is still contentious, before progressing to topics like intercourse. Children should not be having sex at these young ages, but more importantly, they shouldn’t be having unsafe sex. These students are having sex despite parental objections, and it has to be the responsibility of schools to at least communicate the health concerns involved in that choice. The gendered difference in what is taught to students is another problem that also cannot be facilitated by parents. Students, regardless of gender, should be learning and have immediate access to the same information in their schools.

Parental and political censorship cannot extend to libraries in schools either. There is a difference between sectioning libraries off by age or giving children access to books based on reading level versus deliberately depriving them of specific information. Libraries are a battleground for freedom of information right now, and school libraries have to be a part of that fight. Historically, book bans are too often about information suppression rather than keeping content “appropriate.” Book bans should not be a medium to ban diverse content, as was the case with 52% of books banned from 2006 to 2016.

There have also been conversations about parents’ rights regarding their child’s gender identity, and the answer is that it violates their civil rights. Just because they are minors does not remove the right to own their identity and to own themselves. No one, not school administrators or parents or educators or the government, has a right to that information. Having a child and raising a child does not entitle anyone to control their child’s identity, and a school certainly should not aid in that endeavor. Furthermore, students should feel safe in their schools, and schools that utilize “forced outing” policies and restrict children to using dead names deliberately violate that need for safety.

When it comes to holding schools and school districts accountable for violations of state curriculum, state law and civil rights, California doesn’t have a lot of ways to enforce this. Typically, the consequences are financial. Recently, Governor Newsom imposed fines against a school district for censoring school curricula, though this has been seen as a move that only serves to disadvantage students further rather than penalize those responsible. Data from 2020 indicates that a thousand-dollar decrease in spending per student increases the standardized test score gap between black and white students by 6%, in addition to general decreases for all math and reading students and a lower college attendance rate.

Parents, government officials, lawmakers and educators alike cannot sanitize education and create policies that make a school unsafe in any capacity. The bottom line is that all children have the right to an education, which cannot be taken away or detracted from because of parents’ personal beliefs.


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    The Highlander editorials reflect the majority view of the Highlander Editorial Board. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Associated Students of UCR or the University of California system.