Parents’ bill of rights is wrong choice for Ontario
As the mother of two small children, a scientist and an activist for quality public education, I’m deeply concerned about the Ontario government’s proposal for a parents’ bill of rights.
The Ministry of Education’s consultation asks for feedback on what elements should be included in a parents’ bill of rights. After living in the most conservative parts of the United States, I’ve seen how a parents’ bill of rights can be used to undermine teachers, defund public schools and harm children, especially those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or who are even questioning.
No other province has a parents’ bill of rights and the necessity for one remains unclear. The Ministry of Education has not specified how it would be used nor its legal standing relative to existing law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must look elsewhere to see how a parents’ bill of rights affects students, families and teachers.
In the U.S., a parents’ bill of rights has been used to allow parents to withdraw their children from school without penalty on days when subjects they disagree with are taught. Commonly avoided topics are evolution, sexual health education and climate change. It is also used to refuse vaccinations, leading to outbreaks of preventable diseases. It has even been used to justify physical abuse in the form of spanking or other corporal punishment.
Advocates of a parents’ bill of rights in the U.S. sometimes fall within one of the following groups: far-right legislators, recognized hate groups and anti-LGBTQ religious groups.
One religious group, Focus on the Family, has developed a model parents’ bill of rights for supporters to propose in their legislators and school boards.
In Ontario, advocates for a parents’ bill of rights include Lou Iacobelli of Everyday for Life Canada and Parental Rights in Education Defense (PRED). PRED funded a 2016 lawsuit by parent Steve Tourloukis against the Hamilton-Wentworth District school board in which he alleged the school board violated his parental rights by not providing advance notice of classroom content that was not in alignment with his family’s religious views. A judge ruled in favour of the school board, stating students’ rights to equity and inclusion as supported by the Charter of Rights and the provincial equity and inclusion in education strategy superseded the need of Tourloukis’ children to avoid all exposure to material the family deemed objectionable.
Parents already have the ability to request religious accommodation in Ontario public schools, and this case set legal precedent that an equitable learning environment free of stigma or condemnation is in alignment with Canadian law.
In the U.S., a parents’ bills of rights is used to justify the splintering of public tax dollars toward alternative schooling choices, such as private religious schools, charter schools and home schooling.
Ontario taxpayers should regard a parents’ bill of rights with skepticism.
The name “parents’ bill of rights” might lead some to believe the intended purpose is to strengthen the relationship between parents and schools and foster parent engagement. That is not how it is used in the U.S. Given the adoption of a resolution at the recent Ontario Progressive Conservative convention incorrectly identifying gender identity as “unscientific” and another supporting a parents’ bill of rights, the motivations for such an unprecedented policy in Canada must be questioned.
Ontario taxpayers can reject the idea of a parents’ bill of rights by participating in the education consultation at www.ontario.ca/ page/for-the-parents.