The Continuous Struggle for Community Control of Public Schools in the Divided States of America

Beginning in March of 2020 as millions of children were being home schooled, parents got a glimpse into how their children were being educated at school.  What they learned set off a firestorm that ignited the second wave of the parental control movement in the United States.

According to Will Estrada, President of, “This is a moment I don’t think we have seen in a very long time.  It’s hard to tell whether it will last.  You never know when you’re in a historical moment until years have gone by.”

It goes without saying that the pandemic had placed education at the top of parents’ minds.  As we sat at home in front of our computer screens and TV monitors, many of us were stunned to see the issues that had captured parents concerns. 

Issues regarding:

  • Curriculum and what should be taught in schools;
  • Critical race theory and book bans;
  • Social emotional lessons that focus on race and what it means to be white;
  • Child vaccinations, violations of medical privacy, and masks in schools;
  • Privacy of children’s school records, grades, and library book borrowing history; and
  • Gender identity, orientation, and LGBTQ+

This movement is different from the prior parental control movement that occurred in the 1960’s.  The key question that guides public opinion today is, “Should the government have the last say as to what happens to your child in schools?”  What they found out was astounding.

For many years, Americans had assumed that parents had the fundamental right to make decisions about their children’s education.  It seemed like an inalienable right solidified in the constitution.  If fact, it had been since Meyer v. State of Nebraska, in 1923, which stated that “it is the natural duty of the parent to give his children education suitable to their station in life.”

However, if it weren’t for the pandemic and the nationwide response to education, parents would not have learned that Meyer v. Nebraska had been overturned in 2000 with the Supreme Court ruling in Troxel v. Granville that opened the door for individual judges and States to apply their own interpretation of parental rights.

In what should be a bipartisan issue, parents’ rights are now being politicized at the state and local levels for the first time in American history with each state making its own set of rules around what parents can and cannot teach their children at home and what expectations parents can dictate regarding what can be taught to their children in public schools.  Somehow this has morphed into a larger community understanding of what is in the best interest of parents and children.

Traditionally, the government did not get involved with parent’s rights unless it had a compelling interest.  Then it would decide to conduct a child abuse investigation in which it must display proof of harm before making any decisions around removing children from their parents.  However, in a challenge to the ethos of pre-pandemic times, politicians today are doubling down on the concept that parents should not be involved in the education of their children. 

During the 2001 Governor’s race in Virginia, Glen Youngkin (R) said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach.”  Many Republicans share this view and use it to keep a muzzle on parents.

In February 2022, Governor Greg Abbott (R) of Texas recently mandated that the state investigate parents who seek gender-affirming care for their children as possible child abuse. 

In March 2002, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed House Bill 1557, The Parental Rights in Education Bill, labeled as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” forbidding any mention of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 classes and other grades in a manner that is not age appropriate.

Parental rights are important.  Every teacher will tell you they want the parents to be engaged.  However, states are setting greater limitations on what parents can demand of their public schools.

The Importance of Community

The role of the public schools is to provide an education not an indoctrination. Therefore, schools should not replace the family or the family’s community in decision making around opinions and beliefs.  Many parents say they’re struggling with re-enrolling their kids back into public schools because of a lack of community input. 

Schools should resemble their Communities.  Will Estrada notes, “this is what makes the school board races so important.  Our public schools are going to reflect the community values.  A public school in San Francisco is going to look very different from a public school in Waco, Texas.  Its curriculum, its instruction, and its library is going to look different because it is going to reflect those community values.” 

Since the 1960’s, Black parents have struggled to implement a Black studies curriculum in Black communities in order for children to learn how to have a positive self-identity and to be able to see their families and their communities in a positive light at school.  The concept was first introduced by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Godfather of Black History in the 1930’s.  However, this right has been denied the Black community for many generations. 

Although the issues of today’s parental control movement are different from the issues of the 1960’s, the constitutional struggle to control public schools at the community level continues.

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