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(Editorial) Good news, Gov. Kemp: Parents already have rights

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(Editorial) Good news, Gov. Kemp: Parents already have rights

Brian Kemp. Photo obtained via http://sos.ga.gov/

This column has been updated. 

I hesitate to engage with or devote coverage to Gov. Brian Kemp’s “performative stupidity,” but his latest proposal is so asinine that I can’t help myself.

Gov. Kemp on Wednesday announced legislation to create a “Parents’ Bill of Rights.”

“These bills codify parental rights when it comes to their child’s education into law, including the right to access instructional material,” a press release from Kemp’s office says. “The bills affirm a parent’s ability to request information from a principal or superintendent and requires that they provide the requested information within three working days. If the principal or superintendent is unable to share the information within that timeframe, they must provide the parent with a description of the material and a timeline for its delivery, not to exceed 30 days.”

Let’s set aside that the “critical race theory” laws and other affiliated nonsense will almost certainly be deemed unconstitutional. (And since our wise lawmakers in the Republican Party are struggling to define what critical race theory is, we’re off to a fine start.) As a practical matter, there is simply no need for an additional law guaranteeing parents access to their child’s educational materials. We already have one, and it’s called the state Open Records Act.

Our ORA is not perfect, but it’s pretty good, and you have a Republican to thank for that: Mr. Sam Olens, our former attorney general. Given the current drift of the Republican Party, he’d be labeled a RINO and primaried for being too reasonable, but I digress.

The state’s open records law is better than what Gov. Kemp is proposing. As the Secretary of State’s website notes, “All open records requests will be processed within three business days of receipt of request. If the records exist, but are not immediately available, the Open Records Officer’s response will include a description of the records and a timetable for their release.”

I’d wager 99 percent of the time, anything a parent would request would be immediately available. Odds are, you wouldn’t even need to make a records request. You could just ask your school or child’s teacher for any records you want, and you’d get them.  But if you’re interested, you can find instructions on how to file an open records request by clicking here.

On the off chance, a school would try to withhold such records, the state has an open government mediation program that anyone can use. I’m a frequent flyer there because I routinely clash with public officials about records in my line of work. To learn more about that program, click here.

“At a time when our nation is more divided than ever, we’re leading the fight to ensure parents do not have any barriers which prevent them from playing an active role in their child’s education,” Gov. Kemp said in his press release.

Respectfully, governor, what in the actual hell are you even talking about?

Most schools and teachers would love for parents to be more involved in their child’s education. If parents are paying attention, they’d realize that they’re already getting regular updates on what their children are doing in school. It’s called homework. Check your kid’s backpack.

If you require even more knowledge about how your school operates, there are multiple ways you can get involved. You can join the PTA, principal’s advisory committee or school leadership team. You can sign up to be a substitute teacher because God knows, schools need them. You can volunteer at your kid’s school as a tutor or a room parent. If you’re up for a really thankless task, run for School Board. There are numerous ways you can get involved. The only barriers to participating in your kid’s education are the same ones that have always existed: apathy and laziness.

The governor and the Republicans have decided hounding teachers is a winning issue for them, in no small part because COVID-19 related school closures went on entirely too long and parents were understandably hot about it. But, our disagreements about virtual schooling aside, teachers have been put through the wringer, and they don’t deserve this. Many teachers are eyeing the exits, and we should all be concerned about what kinds of people we’re going to find to replace them. Most teachers are in it for the right reasons and care about our kids.

I’m sure they wish most parents cared as much as they did. Then we wouldn’t need silly bills that guarantee rights we already have.

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