BOISE – All Idaho school districts would have to develop processes 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 SB 1096a with fellow freshman Sen. Lori DenHartog, R-Meridian, told the Senate, “This bill aims to put in writing the rights of parents to be the primary decision makers for their children. Parents’ rights are given to us by God. We are not saying the state is granting these rights. We are simply putting it in writing in our code that this is the case … and we acknowledge the rights that parents have.”
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; it prominently says in Article 9, Section 1, “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”
The Idaho Constitution also vests supervision of schools in the state Board of Education and state superintendent of public instruction; and makes school attendance compulsory between the ages of 6 and 18, “unless educated by other means, as provided by law.” Idaho law allows parents wide discretion to home-school children instead of sending them to school.
“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 declared.
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