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State superintendent tells WA school districts to ignore Parents Bill of Rights law

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(The Center Square) – A new parents bill of rights took effect Thursday in Washington, but State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal is telling school districts to ignore it.

The measure approved by lawmakers back in March was introduced by a voter initiative.

Supporters said it was a way to ensure parents don’t feel left out of their child’s education and, among other things, have access to medical or counseling records if children are questioning gender identity or sexual orientation.

During a March public hearing on the bill, Jennifer Heine-Withee, with the Family Policy Institute, listed stories of parents who felt their rights were ignored by teachers and schools across the state, including children being taught about race, gender pronouns and sexuality.

But the law has received backlash from the ACLU and LGBTQ groups, who last month filed a lawsuit arguing that students and school districts will be harmed because of it.

Reykdal’s office, in a news release issued Wednesday, suggested there are protections in federal law that the parental rights bill is in conflict with.

“Some of these records contain personal information and are protected under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and as such, cannot be disclosed without the student’s consent,” read the release.

OSPI has asked Washington’s 295 school districts not to implement the new law.

“There is no question that students are best supported when their families are actively involved in their education,” Reykdal continued. “But if a student does not feel safe coming out to their family and they turn to a trusted adult at their school for support, they have a right to receive that support without fear of being outed by their school.”

An email from an OSPI spokesperson says in part: “Until these conflicts are clarified—either in the court or by the Legislature—we have asked school districts not to make changes to any policies or procedures related to student privacy.”

Washington Policy Center’s Education Center Director Liv Finne tells The Center Square, Reykdal’s position on this is out of line.

“It’s breathtaking,” said Finne. “Superintendent Reykdal has crowned himself Supreme Ruler of Education Policy in Washington State. Above the people, the legislature and now the courts.”

WA GOP Chair Jim Walsh posted a response on Facebook that says in part: “The cynical thing about Reykdal encouraging public school districts to break the law is that he faces little (direct) consequence. The districts will be the ones sued and held liable if they follow his dumb advice. WA school districts: Ignore Chris Reykdal. Do the right thing. Follow the law.”

The lawsuit challenging the new law was filed 2 weeks ago and this week King County Superior Court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order, which would have blocked it from taking effect Thursday.

On June 21, the Court will consider a preliminary injunction.