WASHINGTON — Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola on Friday voted against the Parents Bill of Rights Act, the latest Republican-led effort to bolster “parental rights” in public schools.
The measure, which is unlikely to advance in the Democrat-led Senate, would make it so school districts provide parents with access to parent-teacher meetings and information about curriculum, budget and materials like books in the library. The legislation requires parental consent for elementary and middle school students to use a different name, change their pronouns or change which locker room or bathroom they use in school. The bill, which passed 213 to 208, also mandates that schools report if a transgender girl uses a girls’ bathroom or locker room, or participates in girls’ sports.
“The reason I did not vote for this particular bill, is because I feel like students should have some right to privacy,” Peltola said. “And I think they should have a right to feel safe at school.”
“I think that everybody is in support of the title of the bill,” Peltola said. “But when you look at the particulars ... I don’t think there is broad consensus across Alaska on the details of the bill.”
Peltola also expressed concern that the legislation will endanger students who are already at risk for suicide.
“One of the ways I heard it characterized is as punching down on vulnerable students,” Peltola said.
“But then putting more targets on them and creating more negative attention their way, I don’t think it’s healthy,” she said.
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Peltola said she thinks Alaska parents are more worried about education quality, mental health, funding for schools, teacher shortages and school closures than issues like library books.
Louisiana Republican Rep. Julia Letlow, who introduced the measure, said it will boost “transparency and accountability” in public education.
Democrats, in turn, have blasted the bill, saying it would out LGBTQ+ students to their families and lead to book bans. Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said it would “put politics over parents.”
The bill comes amid a surge of state-level “parental rights” legislation in public schools, including in Alaska. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed policies earlier this month that would limit sexual education, require parent permission for students to use different pronouns in school and mandate that students use locker rooms and restrooms that match their “biological sex.”
“I think it’s really important for me to stay in my lane,” Peltola said when asked about Dunleavy’s proposals. “I’ve been elected by Alaskans to represent them in Congress at the federal level. So I’m focusing my attention on this bill moving through Congress, which is my only role as the federal representative.”
Peltola characterized the House legislation as one of several “messaging bills” that are doomed to fail in the Senate or at the president’s desk.
“This kind of legislation is just a terrible distraction from my real work, when we all know that this bill is never getting any further than the House,” she said.