Balancing the Student’s Best Interests with Parental Requests

Author: Michael Foust

Avoid “Us” Versus “Them”

Of all the issues facing teachers today, the debate over parental rights has grown to be one of the most contentious.

The topic comes with a litany of difficult questions: Where do the rights of parents begin … and where — if ever — do they end? Do parents have the same rights over their children in the curriculum as they do in other areas? And, how can schools protect the student’s right for privacy if that conflicts with mom and dad’s wishes?

Students And Parents

Unfortunately, the issue is often viewed as “us” versus “them.” Thankfully, most of the public doesn’t see it that way. A 2022 British Council survey found that 79 percent of parents in Wales said teachers play a vital role in society. That’s got to make teachers feel good.

A 2023 Gallup survey found that 73 percent of United States parents graded their children’s teachers as either “excellent” or “good.” This is another example of how much parents value and respect the role of educators.

In most countries, the debates over parental rights fall under three broad categories:

  1. values,
  2. health care,
  3. and curriculum.

The topic of “values” can be broad but, generally, includes a family’s religion, culture, and beliefs. It involves what the family believes about God, about right and wrong, about ethics and morality, and about the fundamental principles that guide their daily lives.

In most countries, parents have broad rights on issues of values, and in certain instances, can even “opt” their children out of specific content or activities if it conflicts with their deeply held beliefs. These rights are often protected under laws that acknowledge the role of parents as their child’s primary educators.

Parents typically enjoy broad rights over their child’s health care, too, including the right to make medical decisions and to obtain medical records.

Even so, there are limits. For example, more than 80 countries around the world require vaccinations for children. Another 20, including the United States, require vaccinations for enrollment in schools. Often, the issue of health care is governed by laws on the national and local level that protect a child’s health when it conflicts with the parent’s wishes.

For curriculum, the rights of parents are frequently limited by national, regional, and local requirements that mandate what should be taught in such areas as science, mathematics, and reading.

Still, in many locations, parents can have a voice in shaping the curriculum through their local school board, parent-teacher association, and channels of communication with the teachers. To state it plainly: A classroom with 20 students simply cannot have 20 different sets of curriculum.

Dialogue and transparency are key in building trust between parents and teachers — and in avoiding arguments about rights. After all, the teacher is partnering with the parents in educating the child. Moms and dads are entrusting their kids to the teacher, who, in turn, needs the parents’ support in areas of at-home studies. Demonstrating a genuine commitment to the child’s educational well-being can go a long way in establishing trust.

Instead of asking, is it wrong to override a parent’s rights?, we could instead ask: How can we balance the parent’s desires with the best interests of the child?

Done well, education is like a relay race with parents and teachers on the same team, each passing a baton as they round the track. Instead of “us” vs. “them,” educators and parents should strive for an environment of teamwork and cooperation, transforming the classroom into a harmonious “we.” The result: a well-rounded child ready for success in the real world.

About the Author

Micahel Foust

Michael Foust has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. His stories have appeared in dozens of publications including Leaf-Chronicle, Toronto Star, Knoxville News-Sentinel and Union-Recorder newspapers. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, the husband of an amazing wife, Julie, and the father of four young children.

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