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Albuquerque Public Schools parent rights proposal spurs pushback ahead of hearing

Nash Jones

An Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education committee will consider a proposed new policy Thursday regarding parental responsibility in children’s education and access to student records, including those related to accessing counseling. But there’s opposition to the proposal from several groups, including the Albuquerque Teachers Federation and GLSEN New Mexico — an LGBTQ student advocacy organization — due to concern that the policy could harm both students and teachers.

The proposed policy of Parent Rights and Responsibilities includes giving parents the right to examine curriculum, observe their childrens’ classrooms, and to “expect qualified teachers who follow the code of conduct.”

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein, acknowledged how complex the conversations are in the classroom, but said we need to help our students think critically and develop their own political choices. Because of this, Bernstein questioned the underlying intent of the policy.

“What is right and what is wrong in public discourse is important,” she said. “Policy aimed at silencing, marginalizing, restricting, criminalizing schools as a safe space to be as a student and a teacher — that’s wrong. And that is something we would fight."

Bernstein said she wants to make sure this isn’t a step towards fear-based conversation labeled as critical race theory, which isn’t used in public education, and what it means to teach honest history.

Bernstein is unsure if parents will be able to approve or disapprove the crafting of curriculum, because that has been up to a school’s administration to evaluate.

In addition, she says this proposed policy may be an innocent attempt to ensure parents have ways to partner with schools, but she says parents already have those rights.

There are a couple versions of the proposal circulating. The one on Thursday’s policy committee meeting agenda says parents have the right “to have access to all educational records of a school district concerning their child,” including counseling records, Individualized Education Plans, and social support plans.

Policy Coordinator for GLSEN New Mexico Damon Carbajal said those types of records include internal gender support plans for trans and queer students not previously disclosed to parents, “where students can use their name and pronoun at school that aren’t officially on the record.”

He said that, should the policy pass the full APS Board of Education, “those plans would be open for parents and guardians to note, putting these students in danger.”

He said some LGBTQ youth have shared information about their identities with school staff and counselors that their parents may not support.

“And this would definitely be outing them in that sense because they don’t have any say in this policy,” he said.

As the board’s committee meetings don’t allow for a public comment period, GLSEN has called on the APS community to write to the Board ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

“Because these are policies that should be created for and by community to help youth,” said Carbajal. “And — right now, how it is — is going to cause a lot of harm for our LGBTQ+ youth.”

APS board member and Policy Committee Chair Danielle Gonzales said Wednesday that she received around 375 emails overnight, most — if not all — in opposition. “And, specifically, it’s in opposition to concerns around counseling records potentially being shared with parents,” she said.

New Mexico law mandates that those 14 years of age and older must give consent to the release of their mental health records.

Gonzales said she’s “deeply appreciative” to the organizations that encouraged community members to reach out to her.

“I don’t support any policy that in any way compromises the safety, the sense of belonging, the identity or the dignity of any student, and especially our LGBTQ+ youth,” she said.

She said the board has a chance to amend the proposal at the meeting and she hopes it can balance giving parents access to information while protecting student safety and rights.

If the proposal passes out of committee Thursday, it’s scheduled to be heard at the full Board of Education meeting on July 20, where public comment will be accepted.

Support for this coverage comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and from listeners like you.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.
Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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