Lawmakers advance 'bill of rights' for Utah parents
Parents would have what amounts to a bill of rights in education under legislation forwarded to the full Senate on Thursday.
SB122, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, list the rights parents have when dealing with schools, including some new rights.
The bill aims to reengage parents who aren't involved in their children's education as well as those who have been shut out by educators, Osmond said.
He wants an education system, he said, that recognizes "the parent really is the lead" and that will customize education to get the best outcomes for students.
"It's about creating a bill of rights," he said.
Osmond's bill, however, is quite a bit different from what he first suggested last fall and what he proposed in the first draft of the bill.
Initially, Osmond wanted the law to also require parents to sign contracts saying they would follow attendance policies, support their kids with homework, attend parent-teacher conferences, support classroom discipline and pay for tutoring or extra classes if their children fall behind.
His first draft eased up on those requirements, and the latest one drops mention of parents' obligations altogether.
Osmond said Thursday that he decided the state could use the current compulsory attendance laws to enforce parent accountability, and besides, other lawmakers saw delineating expectations of parents as "a slippery slope."
The version endorsed Thursday requires that schools make reasonable accommodations to let parents influence which teacher the child gets; visit classrooms; excuse a child's absences; set the child's level of academic rigor; excuse a child from statewide or national standardized tests; secure course credit if a child tests out or is competent in a subject; set the time for a parent-teacher conference; and be notified if a child violates discipline or conduct rules.
The laundry list prompted Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, to advise Superintendent of Public Instruction Martell Menlove to "buckle up."
"This is going to be a challenge for your system," said Urquhart, who voted to endorse the bill.
Menlove acknowledged that the bill has "potential for great impact on the system."
Just as the law would require schools to make "reasonable accommodations," the Legislature should be reasonable about what it expects of schools given limited resources, Menlove said.
"I hope you all are reasonable with some of the rest of us who are going to have to decide what reasonable is," Menlove said.
Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, voted for the bill, but cautioned the committee about the practical challenges. She asked how a teacher with 40 or 45 students can tailor the rigor of the work to each student.
"We are asking our teachers and schools to do more and more with less and less," she said.