Alaska Legislature

Alaska House committee strips Dunleavy-backed parental rights advocate from budget

JUNEAU — While legislative debates continue about sex education and transgender students’ rights in schools, an Alaska House committee stripped funding from the budget for a parental rights advocate proposed by the Dunleavy administration.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy this month unveiled a controversial “parental rights” bill that would limit LGBTQ policies in Alaska schools. The Legislature’s attorneys recently wrote in a memorandum that Dunleavy’s bill would likely run afoul of the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause, which is one of the strongest in the nation.

The parental rights advocate was included in Dunleavy’s amended budget introduced in February. An attorney based in Juneau would be paid $209,000 per year and the client would be the state Department of Education. The Department of Law has said the position is needed after it recently worked to resolve a grievance in Fairbanks related to school district notification policies.

In February, Attorney General Treg Taylor said in a brief interview with the Daily News that the advocate could answer questions broadly on parental rights: Can kids go to class part time? Can parents also come and attend classes? But he said the advocate was mostly envisioned to address parents’ concerns about notification requirements before sex and gender are taught in schools.

“It’s not just notification, it’s consent,” Taylor said.

Alaska’s existing parental rights in education statute comes from a 2016 bill. Then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy successfully introduced a sex education amendment. School boards must approve those course materials, which extended to gender identity. Parents get a two-week warning before any classes, programs or activities are taught on “human reproduction or sexual matters.”

Dunleavy’s current parental rights bill, House Bill 105, goes further. It would ban sexual education for children until fourth grade; require parents to actively opt into all sexual education content for their children once it’s available; force kids to use bathrooms according to their “biological sex”; require parental approval for kids to change the name or pronouns they use in school; and order schools to notify parents about their rights to sue their kids’ schools if their rights are violated.


Lon Garrison, executive director of the Alaska Association of School Boards, helped write the sex education guidelines for districts when the parental rights in education bill passed in 2016. He said in February that there may have been problems here and there, but the new standards have not been “exceptionally difficult” to follow.

“From a statewide perspective, I’ve heard very little about that,” he said.

Nome Democrat Neal Foster and Dillingham independent Bryce Edgmon joined two Democrats and two independents from the House minority Tuesday in cutting funding for the parental rights advocate from the budget.

They also voted with the minority to strip funding for a criminal investigator proposed by the Dunleavy administration to spend a quarter of their time investigating election fraud, and the rest on major felonies, including sex offenses. The position will now be focused on felonies year-round.

Edgmon said he hadn’t heard parental rights concerns from the school districts he represents. He called that a national movement that was a “slow-moving tsunami coming into Alaska.” Foster said he didn’t want to encourage parents to sue school districts.

In what could be a preview of debates over the governor’s parental rights bill, several Republican majority members spoke strongly in favor of the advocate, and about concerns they have heard from parents concerning “erosion” of their rights.

Anchorage Republican Julie Coulombe said, “There’s a lot of parents who have gone to those systems to have a voice and they’re not listened to.”

“If we have an issue, we need an advocate to go to,” said Rep. Frank Tomaszewski, R-Fairbanks.

The Department of Law has variously described the proposed position as “a mediator” and “an ombudsman” for concerned parents.

“It wouldn’t be an attorney for the parents,” Taylor said in February. “They could seek outside counsel, that’s fine. But we’re not going to be acting in that capacity.”

Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills said the state’s two education attorneys don’t have time to address the roughly two complaints per week the Department of Law has been receiving from parents over the past few months. The department has not tracked how many of those relate to sex education and gender.

But there are limits to what the advocate could do. Existing state statute, and Dunleavy’s parental rights bill, do not address controversial school library books. Eagle River Republican Jamie Allard said in a committee hearing that she had heard concerns about “pornography” at Anchorage schools, referencing heated debates about kids books with LGBTQ and sexual content.

Mills said the department has recently heard similar concerns, but she said that complaints about pornography are not for the civil law division. She said the advice given to parents is that “if you really feel like this is a violation of criminal law, then here’s the avenue you pursue for that.”

At a House subcommittee meeting earlier in March, Mills spoke about the need for the advocate more generally. She said that the department had worked to resolve an issue recently in Fairbanks.

Multiple letters signed by Taylor have been sent to the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District since December, asking why its parental notification policies were not publicly available, and about a middle school program.

A March 6 letter from an Anchorage law firm — sent on behalf of the Fairbanks school district — said that the district “recognizes the need to enact policies” in response to the state’s 2016 parental rights law. The district would soon start a broader review, but it would continue complying with state notification requirements until a policy is enacted, the letter said.

Rebecca Hurbi, a spokesperson for the school district, said by email Tuesday that it complies with state notification laws by sending letters or newsletters to parents two weeks before sex- or gender-related classes are taught — but the district’s website does not clearly spell out a policy.


Taylor wrote a follow-up letter in February to the department’s initial request for information. He said the Department of Law understands that parental notification policies had not been enacted. The school district is set to advise the Office of the Attorney General that it is complying with the law before an Aug. 15 deadline. Taylor also asked about a Fairbanks middle school program.

In October, conservative Christian news website The Alaska Watchman wrote about about Randy Smith Middle School’s safe spaces program, described as a “Gay Straight Alliance-based exploration,” which was only open to LGBTQ students and allies. The Watchman referenced “internal emails” between school staff discussing the program, and that the description changed publicly to remove references to sexual identity.

Attorney John Ptacin said in a letter on behalf of the district that the LGBTQ safe spaces program never progressed beyond “the initial review phase,” meaning there was no need to notify parents about it because it was never offered to students.

Mills was careful in speaking about the parents who filed the grievance, saying by email that she would need to make sure that she was “not crossing any confidentiality or disclosure lines.” The Department of Law said the grievance came separately to the Watchman article.

The Daily News sent an email to the department on March 6 requesting information about other state parental rights investigations at school districts outside of Fairbanks. Spokesperson Patty Sullivan said that would take time. On Tuesday, she said the department “may have more information later this week.”

Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said the position could be reinstated in the budget. It was not intended to encourage parents to sue school districts, but to help them know what their rights are and work with school districts and the state Department of Education to comply with state law, he said.

“Even if the position is not included in the final budget, attorneys within the civil division of the Department of Law will continue to assist parents who believe they may have had their parental rights violated,” Turner said through a prepared statement.

The House Finance Committee wrapped up amendments to the operating budget Tuesday before advancing it to the floor for debate by all 40 House members. The budget will then head to the Senate.


The House Education Committee scheduled public testimony for Dunleavy’s parental rights bill Thursday evening, starting at 5:15 p.m.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at