HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – The debate over what some call “Culture Wars in the Classroom” has made its way to Pennsylvania. With more states introducing so-called “Parental Rights” or “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, some education advocates say students are being used as “political pawns.”
“The censorship bills, the anti-LGBT bills, the book banning bills, don’t say gay bills, these are being driven by a very small number of very extreme people,” said Susan Spicka, the Executive Director of Education Voters of PA. “Most parents and most people don’t want this type of politicking happening in our schools,” she added.
A recent Ipsos poll shows 74 percent of parents feel that politicians are using kids in school as political pawns. Spicka believes legislative proposals to prohibit discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity, or removing certain books from schools does not reflect the views of the majority of Pennsylvania parents.
“I think a lot of this is just being driven by political forces that have nothing to do with our actual local school districts,” said Spicka.
Spicka says parents have the right to be involved in their child’s academics and should feel included, adding that parents are currently able to have those conversations, or express any concerns with teachers or school districts.
“In general, if a parent wants to see the curriculum, wants to see what’s being taught, that information will be given readily, and happily given to parents by the student’s teacher,” said Spicka.
Spicka believes controversy in the classroom is largely fueled by politicians or special interests seeking to fire up their base in hopes to increase turnout at the polls.
“I just think that that’s really wrong and is really damaging. It’s damaging to our schools, it’s damaging to kids, it’s damaging to our communities. And I hope that they will just stop doing that and instead really support public schools by funding them,” said Spicka. “I don’t think that most people want lawmakers in Harrisburg passing legislation that is going to target already vulnerable kids or ban books,” she added.
Some Republican lawmakers disagree and are taking action to provide further “parental transparency.”
“What we’re finding across the state is that there is a real problem in the classroom,” said State Representative Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland), who served on the school board of the Cumberland Valley School District for eight years.
Gleim believes most parents are satisfied with their child’s classroom experience, but says legislative action is still warranted.
“They just want teachers to get back to the basics,” said Gleim. “We do have a few teachers out there that are using their position to become activists of certain public interest or special interests. We do have books right now that are totally inappropriate in our public schools, and the taxpayer shouldn’t have to be paying for that kind of stuff,” said Gleim, who is a cosponsor of House Bill 2813, known by proponents as the “Parental Bill of Rights.”
HB 2813 would prohibit schools from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity before sixth grade, which is currently the case, according to Gleim. The bill would also require classroom instruction to be age appropriate and require public schools to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services from the school regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.
“We want the instruction to be age appropriate and I don’t think that that’s such a bad thing to ask,” said Gleim.
The bill was referred to the House Education Committee last month where it still awaits consideration.