by Bridget Starrs
Recent statewide policy proposals in both Delaware and Ohio have captured the attention of national media outlets and highlight a growing phenomenon of government infringement on parental rights, one which has triggered a political firestorm. Moreover, the status of these proposals still remains up in the air, putting legal protection for parental rights in a precarious position in both states — as well as, potentially, the rest of the country.
The most recent development came last week, when Delaware Gov. John Carney’s administration announced its decision to scrap a proposed statewide anti-bias policy for schools in all nineteen of the state’s districts. The original proposal, Regulation 225, garnered over 11,000 email responses following a public comment period that ended last December.
The proposal’s goal of providing “the development of a policy prohibiting discriminatory treatment of students on the basis of a Protected Characteristic(s)” included a controversial provision that allowed students to use a different name at school without notifying their parents. Following the extensive and largely negative public feedback in December, the proposal decision was delayed for months.
In early June, Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting released a revised version of the proposal, which removed a provision to allow students to play on a sports team “consistent with the student’s gender identity”, and changed the provision allowing students to use a different name without parental consent.
“A school shall request permission from the parent or legal guardian before accommodating a request by a minor student that the school take action to recognize a change in any Protected Characteristic,” the updated provision stated. “If the student does not permit the school to request permission from the parent or legal guardian, then the request to take action shall not be accepted.”
The revised proposal, however, also garnered numerous responses in opposition to Bunting’s revisions.
“They have created a policy now that in the end does not protect children,’’ Andrea Rashbaum, a Delaware teacher who was on a committee to draft the original proposal, said. “The idea behind the policy was to protect children and it was to help children who may not have help in other ways. They may not have the social network, may be bullied in school and may not have parents’ support.”
However, Delaware Rep. Rich Collins fought the proposal as it was originally written last year, and offered tentative praise for the revised one.
“I am cautiously optimistic that they have restored parental rights in education Regulation 225,” Collins said in June. “Assuming that it is exactly as they said, then certainly it is a good thing that parents have been informed.”
But at the end of last week, the Delaware Department of Education announced that it would not finalize the revised version of Regulation 225.
“Recent court decisions have raised important legal questions regarding this issue, and the significant public comments make clear we still haven’t struck the right balance,” Bunting said. “For those reasons, we’re not going to finalize the current proposed version of the regulation.”
Delaware Family Council Director Nicole Theis also spoke out against the original proposal. She argued that the proposal forced the school system “to be pitted against parental authority and a gender ideology against a right to privacy.”
Meanwhile, a similar battle is being fought in Ohio, where a state bill aiming to protect parental rights has become a political flashpoint. The Ohio Parents’ Rights Act (HB 658), introduced by Republican state Reps. Tom Brinkman and Paul Zeltwanger, would ensure that state officials cannot legally remove children from parental custody on the grounds of parents’ refusal to provide their child with transgender hormone therapy. The legislation was prompted by a controversial case that stripped custody from two parents who did not allow their 17-year-old daughter, who identified as male, to begin untested hormone therapy as a minor.
“It’s absolutely horrifying that the state would remove a child from parents’ custody to put the child on untested and dangerous drugs,” said President of Citizens for Community Values Aaron Baer. “Hamilton County Job and Family Services crossed the line in this case. HB 658 ensures this can’t happen to other Ohio families.”
But Equality Ohio, an LGBTQ rights organization, denounced Cincinnati’s own school policy of notifying parents if their child wants to be treated as a member of the opposite sex at school. The group released a statement saying that such “state policing of behavior opens a can of worms.”
As these debates play out in both states, the future of parental rights continues to hang in the balance. Looking ahead, in his statement last week, Delaware Gov. Carney promised that his administration would consider its “next steps” regarding Regulation 225. Parents will be watching closely.