BOISE – All Idaho school districts would have to allow parents to withdraw their children from any activity, class or program that the parents believe “impairs the parents’ firmly held beliefs, values or principles,” under legislation that passed the Idaho Senate on Monday.
Freshman Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, who co-sponsored the bill, told the Senate that it solidifies the role of parents as the “primary decision-makers for their children.” She added, “Parents’ rights are given to us by God.”
After much debate and with bipartisan opposition, the bill passed the Senate on a 23-12 vote. It still would need House passage and the governor’s signature to become law.
Several senators disputed the bill’s fiscal note, which says it won’t cost anything. In addition to the withdrawal procedures, the bill requires every school district and charter school to develop a parent participation policy.
Souza noted the Idaho Constitution’s provisions about education, which prominently require the Legislature to provide for schools and require school attendance unless children are being “educated by some other means.”
“Because of the way our state constitution is written in regards to education, parents have no meaningful recourse to protect their children from something they strongly feel is harmful,” Souza told the Senate. “I think it is a critical issue and the time is now.”
The bill is opposed by the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho School Administrators Association and the Idaho Education Association. Several lawmakers said their local school districts have told them they also oppose it.
“If parents want to opt out of something or replace something, whose responsibility is that?” asked Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland. “And is that going to become onerous on our teachers and our school districts and potentially our parents?” She bemoaned the bill’s “lack of clarity.”
Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, spoke in favor of the bill. “I believe it’s time to have this type of legislation to … put in writing the rights that our parents need to have,” he said.