February 4, 2022

By Joe Setyon

“Our children’s education is not a game. We just want to know what is being taught.”

With those two sentences, Rhode Island mom Nicole Solas summed up what’s at stake as parents demand accountability from public schools that would prefer to keep them in the dark. But there’s a simple solution, Solas told lawmakers on the Arizona Senate Education Committee: the Goldwater Institute’s academic transparency reform, which is designed to empower parents and shine a light on what their kids are learning.

Flanked by fellow concerned parents, Solas recounted the bullying, harassment, and legal action taken against her by the public education establishment after she asked her school a simple question: What would her daughter be learning in kindergarten? Solas’ comments came as part of her testimony in support of Goldwater’s Academic Transparency Act (Senate Bill 1211), which passed the committee. Later, she expressed similar sentiments in a meeting with Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who supports her advocacy and highlighted the need for academic transparency last month in his State of the State address.

The concerned mom’s fight for her rights started because she was worried her daughter would be exposed to radical political content in the classroom. And for good reason, too.

“When I called the school and asked, they said that they don’t call children ‘boys’ and ‘girls,'” she recalled Tuesday. “They said that they refrained from using gendered terminology in the classroom, and that they embed the values of gender identity into the classroom at every grade at an age-appropriate level. When I asked about Critical Race Theory, they said that they teach 5 year olds on the first Thanksgiving, this ridiculous question where they say, ‘What could have been done differently on the first Thanksgiving?’”

Solas tried asking more questions about the kindergarten curriculum, but her school district told her to submit public records requests instead. So she did. But doing exactly what the district told her just made the public education bureaucrats angry.

“When I did submit those public records requests, and when they did know that I had a lot of questions, my own school district turned around, put my name on the agenda of a public school board meeting, and publicly threatened to sue me for submitting the public records requests that they told me to submit,” she said. “They had a five-hour school board meeting where they publicly bullied, harassed me, they called me racist.”

Ultimately, the school district told Solas the public records she asked for would cost $74,000. The nation’s largest public sector teachers union, the National Education Association, even sued her “because they don’t want information coming out about my public records requests,” Solas added. (Goldwater is defending Solas against that frivolous suit pro bono.)

Eight months after she asked a simple question, Solas still hasn’t seen an up-to-date kindergarten curriculum.

“What they did to me is government abuse of power just because I wanted to know what was being taught,” Solas told lawmakers. “No parent should be afraid that they’re going to be publicly attacked and sued just to know what their kids are learning in school.”

And her story is not an outlier. As parents across the country push back against the radical lessons taught to their children in public schools, they’re being charged tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in public records requests fees just to find out the truth.

“Parents cannot afford to buy the information that their school wants to sell them, and if they’re me, they get sued just for asking for that information,” Solas testified.

It’s unfair to parents, and it also poses a problem for schools who need to spend large sums of money to compile, redact, and forward for legal review their responses to public records requests. “This is a never-ending hamster wheel benefitting only one party, and that’s the lawyers that are giving out these estimates to parents that can’t afford them, and then they never get that information,” Solas continued.

But there’s a simple fix: the Goldwater Institute’s Academic Transparency Act (SB 1211), which requires public schools to publish a list of instructional materials and activities used during the academic year on a publicly accessible portion of their website. This reform protects parents’ rights by bringing true academic transparency to public schools, while also helping teachers see what other great educators are doing.

“This is a Kafkaesque, bureaucratic problem with a really easy legislative solution: academic transparency. You can vindicate the absolute rights of parents to know what their kids are being taught by passing this bill. But you can also protect public schools from squandering their education dollars on this never-ending cycle of getting public records requests, and handing out estimates,” the Rhode Island mom urged legislators. “Please pass this bill – if not for parents, pass this bill for public schools, and you can save them from themselves. We need our education dollars for our students, we don’t need it to be squandered on this petulant standoff with parents who just want to know what their kids are learning in school.”

Parents like Solas don’t deserve to be stonewalled, bullied, harassed, or sued because they care enough to be involved in their kids’ education. That’s why academic transparency is so important, and it’s why Arizona lawmakers should act swiftly to pass SB 1211.

To learn more about Goldwater’s Academic Transparency Act, you can click here.

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