House Republicans passed the federal Parents Bill of Rights Act on Friday over the unanimous opposition of congressional Democrats, including the Delaware Valley delegation.
The legislation expands the rights of parents to be informed about the materials their children are taught, the medical care and counseling they receive at school, and any violence that occurs on campus.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Chester), an outspoken opponent, denounced the legislation as a “right-wing straight jacket.”
“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle often talk about being the party of small government and local control,” Scanlon said during Thursday’s floor debate. “They condemn the intrusion of the federal government into local affairs,” she continued. “But this legislation is nothing more than an attempt to nationalize our education system and mandate a one-size-fits-all approach across the country.”
“Assuming the size that fits,” she added, “is a right-wing straight jacket.”
Democrats broadly condemned the bill in general. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested the law was an example of “fascism,” while her fellow New Yorker Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries claimed Republicans were seeking to “ban books” and “bring guns into classrooms, kindergarten, and above.”
The measure passed 213-208, with five Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Local Democratic Reps. Scanlon, Madeleine Dean, and Chrissy Houlahan voted no. Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick voted yes.
Scanlon’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Democrats claimed the legislation is “anti-gay” and “anti-trans” because it forbids federally funded schools from hiding a student’s transgender identity from their parents. Currently, some public school systems, including some in the Delaware Valley, instruct teachers and administrations to keep children’s behavior secret from parents, even if that means lying to moms and dads.
The law also directs schools to make all reading materials within a school’s library available to parents upon request.
Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Dan Meuser wrote on Twitter that the bill would grant parents “the right to be heard,” “the right to know what their kids are being taught,” “the right to reasonably protect their children’s privacy,” and “the right to keep their kids safe.”
Rep. John Joyce, a Republican representing central Pennsylvania, said the bill is “a strong step towards supporting Pennsylvania parents and students.”
The bill’s passage is almost certainly doomed to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate. It would also be highly unlikely to clear President Joe Biden’s veto.
The text of the bill also stipulates that parents shall retain “the right to review, and make copies of, at no cost, the curriculum of their child’s school,” as well as the right to know if a school employee moves to “treat, advise, or address a student’s mental health, suicidal ideation, or instances of self-harm.”
Federally funded schools would also be required to obtain parental consent before “allowing a child to change the child’s sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms or bathrooms.”
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) added to the bill an amendment requiring the federal government to assess the “costs to State educational agencies, local educational agencies, elementary schools, and secondary schools” resulting from the act.