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Debate intensifying over how parents bill of rights initiative to be implemented

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(The Center Square) – One of three citizen initiatives passed by the Washington State Legislature as the session winds down is Initiative 2081, known as the “parents’ bill of rights,” that would require school materials – textbooks, curriculum, a child’s medical records – to be easily available for parents to review. The initiative would also let parents opt their children out of assignments related to the students’ sexual experiences or the family’s religious or political beliefs.

On Monday, I-2081 passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 82-15 and the Senate on a vote of 49-0. Once passed by the House and Senate, initiatives become law and do not require action by the governor.

Floor speeches from both chambers of the Legislature highlighted a distinct divide between Democrats and Republicans on implementation of I-2081, which will go into effect 90 days from Thursday, the last day of the legislative session.

Majority party Democrats argued I-2081 essentially makes no changes to current policy.

“I am comfortable moving this forward today because I do believe that it doesn’t change any protections for our young people,” Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way, said.

She noted LGBTQ youth and those who identify as gender expansive will not lose any of their rights.

“We will be keeping our eyes on implementation so that we can come back immediately should interpretation by districts cause any harm to young people,” she said.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said much the same thing.

“I was comforted to hear that school districts plan to implement the initiative narrowly,” he noted.

Some groups that support LGBTQ youth have indicated they will be keeping an eye on the impact of the legislation to make sure school districts don’t violate the privacy or other rights of students.

Republican state representative and state GOP Chairman Jim Walsh, who wrote the initiative, has a different take.

“The pressure will almost certainly be on the parent to ask, but yes the schools are supposed to inform,” the Aberdeen lawmaker told The Center Square.

I-2081 empowers parent to know they have the authority to ask and receive any information about their child, Walsh noted, “even if it’s something from the doctor’s office or clinic, the school can’t say no.”

He added, “We are rectifying lack of clarity at the state level with this initiative.”

The initiative goes much further than that, according to Liv Finne, education director at the Washington Policy Center think tank, who listened to what Democrts had to say during floor debate.

Democrats are trying to minimize what I-2081 actually does, she said.

“This initiative goes right at the heart of what parents are upset about in this state, and that is that schools have been actively hiding from parents what is happening to their children,” Finne explained.

That doesn’t sit well with many parents.

“Changing names of children, pronouns and other aspects of their children’s lives that parents have an absolute right to know – this is what the initiative is about,” Finne said. “Schools have no right to hide from parents if their child is trying to change their name at school or change their gender or some such craziness. That is now no longer permitted under the law.”

Lawmakers claiming I-2081 doesn’t change anything “were simply not telling the truth, and schools will be obligated to provide parents notification if a child is asking about something so fundamental as gender or sexuality issues, that is clear.”

Regarding legal recourse parents may have under the newly-passed initiative, Finne has this counsel: “Parents in this situation have the legal recourse of filing a lawsuit against their local school district under I-2081’s requirement that schools notify parents about information about their child.”

Finne says schools are relying on Policy 3211, an administrative rule, regarding gender-inclusive schools, which is not consistent with I-2081.

Paul Guppy, WPC’s vice president for research, in an email to The Center Square, outlined some recourses for parents under I-2081: “1. They can go public. In other words they can go on Facebook and tell the public that their local public school is not telling them what is happening to their own child. Now they can point to the plain language of the I-2081 law just passed by the state legislature.

“2. They can pull their children out of the public schools, like 46,000 families have already.

“3. Majority Democrats now govern the schools. Parents can vote for lawmakers who do not believe in dividing children from their parents.”