A controversial bill in one state looks to make it possible for teachers to be sued by parents.
The rumble you hear in public education circles is growing louder by the minute. Parents are speaking out, parents are demanding transparency, parents are expecting choice, and now, parents may be asking for money. The money parents could possibly be seeking has nothing to do with school choice funds, but instead from a new bill introduced in the Utah legislature that would allow teachers to be sued by parents. Not only are teachers in the crosshairs, but so are education officials and even schools.
Sen. John Johnson, R-Ogden, introduced SB157 to the Utah legislature, and if passed, it would give parents the ultimate power in how their children receive their education. As first written, the new bill would give parents legal standing to legally go after anyone whom parents feel are infringing on their parental rights. In this instance, per the bill, parents can “obtain judicial and other legal relief.” In other words, teachers can be sued for just about anything.
SB157 lists a slew of areas where parents would be allowed to flex their legal rights surrounding their children’s education. These areas include school curriculum, classroom materials, and textbooks. As far as teachers go, parents could also sue for teacher training that doesn’t fit the district narrative and courses of study. Sen. Johnson’s bill proposal is filled to the brim with language intended to make it perfectly clear that parents are authority supreme when it comes to their children’s education. “The aim is to protect parents’ rights, and protect the children in education,” said Sen. Johnson to KUTV News. Johnson says that those school districts and teachers who decide to go rogue must be held accountable.
“We look at the civics standards that are being proposed now. We have very detailed laws in Utah and what civics education should be,” Johnson said. “They get twisted at the school board. They’re not followed the way they were intended.” So now he looks to give back the power to parents. He wants to give them “primary authority and responsibility for the education” of their kids. Johnson sees the state and local government’s role as “supports and assists,” not wanting them to “interfere of conflict” with parents. He feels, according to the bill, that the mission of Legislature, school boards, and public schools are to both “protect” and “respect” parents’ interests. And in doing so, Johnson believes teachers can be sued.
But the idea of allowing for teachers to be sued has hit like a thud. Both the Utah Education Association (UEA) and the Utah Federation of Teachers were quick in their opposition to Johnson’s SB157 bill. “There’s nothing in the proposal I like,” said Rita Heagren. She is the AFT vice president and a retired high school math teacher. “It’s hard not to use inappropriate language about how bad this Senate bill really is.”
Heagren said she completely supported the right of parents to get involved with their children’s education, but she definitely did not support having teachers sued. “They could sue, and this gives parents legal standing to cause problems throughout the school system,” Heagren said. The bill does appear to be opening the door for a lot of legal ramifications. Teachers sued, school districts sued; the fear is that parents could simply use the threat of a lawsuit to manipulate teachers and school districts to do their bidding. Johnson didn’t reach out to the state’s largest teacher’s union, UEA, as he was putting the bill together and they responded in kind after seeing the bill for the first time.
“This type of legislation is an attack on public schools and pits parents against teachers. Parents and teachers are both essential to student success,” said Heidi Matthews, UEA president, of The Salt Lake Tribune. “Our overburdened educators do not need more attacks on their profession right now. They need support. They need parents who step up and get involved, not legislators who talk down and encourage needless controversy.” Johnson has heard the concerns and states the intent of the bill is not to create frivolous lawsuits. In fact, because of this, Johnson plans on making changes to the controversial bill that could find teachers being sued. “That’s what we’re trying to clean up in the bill,” he said, “to make sure that [frivolous lawsuits] doesn’t happen.”