Parental rights initiative gets a hearing in Olympia but supporters don’t feel heard

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(The Center Square) – A capacity crowd turned out in Olympia Wednesday morning for a legislative public hearing on Initiative 2081 that would would provide parents with a right to review educational materials, receive certain notifications, and opt out of sexual health education.

At a joint 9 a.m. session of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and the House Education Committee, Rep. Sharon Tomiko, D-Seattle, who chairs the House committee, told those in the hearing room that testimony would alternate between initiative supporters and opponents.

That drew grumbling from the mostly pro-initiative audience.

Several people hoping to testify told The Center Square it seemed as if majority Democrats were intentionally running out the clock with staff briefings and questions from lawmakers at the start of the hearing.

When testimony did begin, Rep Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, told joint committee members this is about clearing up some of the confusion that parents have voiced in recent years.

“Let parents know, in plain straightforward terms what they can expect,” said Walsh, who filed the initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office on behalf of voter advocacy group Let’s Go Washington. “We want parents to be engaged and be confident they can know what’s going on with their minor children.”

Dawn Land is a homeschool mom and urged lawmakers to approve the measure.

“In recent years parents have watched this Legislature erode our rights and endanger our children,” she said. “Every child deserves to know they are loved and protected by those who know them best, their parents.”

Nasue Nishida with the Washington Education Association testified as “other” on I-2081.

“We do find the language in this bill to be vague, confusing and duplicative,” she said.

Educators are always looking for ways to foster parent engagement, she told committee members.

“In our analysis of I-2081, we see that parents have had the right to review curriculum, classroom materials, textbooks and visit their child’s classroom since 1979,” Nishida noted.

Mathew Wilson is the executive director of a Tacoma shelter for LGBTQ youth. He testified against the measure.

“LGBTQ youth need a safe and open environment to talk about topics that deal with their orientation,” he said.

Wilson said he was pleased to hear that no current protections for youth would be changed under the initiative, but said it would be up to lawmakers to guarantee those protections.

With just 10 minutes left in the hearing, the committee called a series of names of people who had signed up to testify remotely, but none were present, drawing more grumbling from the audience, many loudly complaining that people physically present should have been given priority to testify.

Jennifer Heine-Withey, with the Family Policy Institute of Washington, supports the initiative and was one of the last to testify.

She told lawmakers she often hears from parents who feel their parental authority is infringed upon by the school system.

“This is not politics, this is not a partisan issue; it’s about parental rights,” Heine-Withey said.

She told lawmaker she was recently contacted by the mother of a 6-year-old girl.

“Her daughter was having conversations with the PE teacher about gender and sexuality,” Heine-Withey explained, because it violated the family’s religious beliefs. “The mother told the principal to stop, and she was ignored.”

She went on to say, “In Edmonds, 7-year-old children were told about pronouns, when the parents were not given the opportunity to see the curriculum or opt out. They didn’t even know it was happening.”

The hearing concluded after one hour. Several people indicated they were disappointed at not being called to testify.

I-2081 is one of six initiatives to the Legislature.

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