In general, federal courts have recognized the fundamental rights of parents to direct the “upbringing and education of children.” But the courts have not been helpful in explaining the specifics of that right, beyond the right to choose private or home-school education over public education. So keep in mind that the rights listed below are the typical rights you can expect to find under the particular laws of many states and local school districts, but they are not by any means guaranteed. We list them with an aim toward helping equip parents with a knowledge of what it is typically reasonable to expect or to politely request to be added or reflected in current policy or law. With that caveat, then, parents with children in public schools usually have the right to:
- Request and arrange a time to examine textbooks, lesson plans, curriculum and supplemental materials used in their child’s classroom.
- Request a time to visit the school and observe their child’s classes.
- Meet with teachers, as well as consult with other professionals interacting with their children at school, including counselors, coaches, administrators, etc.
- Inspect their child’s school records, including academic, counseling and health information.
- Be notified when medical services are being offered to their child
- Be notified if the school is aware that their child has been bullied or has been accused of bullying.
- Be notified if a criminal action is deemed to have been committed against their child.
- Be notified if their child is accused of a criminal action or an infraction that warrants a significant form of school punishment, such as detention.
- Expect and request an educational environment that is emotionally and physically safe for their children.
- Expect and request an educational environment that respects their family’s and their child’s religious freedoms.
- Be informed of and have the right to appeal school policies and administrative decisions.
- Receive written notice and the option to opt their child out of surveys that include invasive questions about students’ sexual experiences or attractions, their families’ beliefs, morality, religion, political affiliations or mental and psychological problems of the student or family members.
- Request a change in class or teacher assignment for their child.
- File a request for information from the school under the Freedom of Information Act
- Be notified if their child is absent from school or classes.
Parents should also have the right to:
- Have the opportunity to volunteer or participate on review committees that made decisions about curriculum, lesson plans and books.
- Receive written notice and have the option to opt their child out of controversial instruction on topics such as sex education, sexual orientation and homosexuality-related instruction.
- Know which extracurricular clubs and school activities their children are participating in
Note: Each state and local school has varying policies regarding notification and opt-out rights for curriculum and classroom instruction—as well as notification about student-club participation. So it is a good idea to check your local and state policies to determine if these rights are protected in your children’s schools—and if they are not, take action to establish them. See the Alliance Defending Freedom model parental rights policy in TrueTolerance.org’s Take Action section, which allows you to send the policy directly to elected officials and/or school board members and educators.