This letter was written by the parent of a student at Lower Marion School District, located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. It describes legal remedies for parents and citizens concerned about what is being taught in their schools. You can find the original at Lower Marion 360 Education.
LMSD is savvy at curbing dissent. You will therefore need to be persistent and unafraid. These folks work for you at your expense. Yet administrators will likely say things like “this curriculum has been developed over 20 years and cannot be shared” or “the curriculum is rooted in decades of evidence-based social science” or “the documents requested are proprietary” or “the community overwhelmingly supports the new curriculum” or “we need to check with the school board,” etc. None of these responses are true; they are designed to deter you. Administrators will further attempt to distract you by pointing you to webpages or community meetings. Their intent is to present the curriculum as a fait accompli, to weaken your will, and scare you off with subtle reminders of possible “repercussions” for your inquiry. None of this bears on your right to review the curriculum nor on your right to opt out—regardless of what some functionary says at an ISC meeting.
The following is the process by which you can get to view your child’s curriculum, outlined by a father of an LMSD student currently fighting for his right to access the learning plan to which his child is being subjected:
- Make the request pursuant to Regulation No. 105.1 (“Curriculum Review by Parents/Guardians and Students,” which is attached), not to Policy No. 801 (“Public Access to School District Records”). Submit it to the school principal via email. Your inquiry will most likely be forwarded to the vice principal.
- You need not make any objections to LMSD policy or reveal your opinion on any matter in your request. The district must permit comprehensive review under state law. In this school parent’s experience, there is zero benefit to getting into philosophical debate with the administrators—ZERO. Avoid it at all costs. You are simply asking to see material which, as a parent, you are entitled to review under the law.
- Anticipate that the administrator will ask you to have a meeting or phone call right away with the vice principal or the education director. Simply say that you are happy to meet or speak on the phone about the curriculum after your family has reviewed the document in its totality.
- Anticipate getting sent bullet-point “learning targets” and links to books children are reading in class. These bulleted items are not “curriculum materials” or “instruction materials.” The bullets sent to us certainly didn’t match curriculum materials used in all cases (e.g., Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness). You want all materials used in classes and lesson plans. (See our request outline below.)
- We also asked for all new teacher training materials on subjects of “cultural proficiency,” “race,” “antiracism,” “BLM (Black Lives Matter,” and “social justice.” They refused our request, but every parent should request new teacher training materials. Our contention is that, given sensitivity of the subject matter and newness of the curriculum, these materials meet the definition of curriculum because they instruct the teachers on how to instruct kids. They therefore should be shared under 105.1 so parents can understand the philosophical and evidentiary underpinnings of the curriculum. (Remember that children are being shamed in many LMSD classes because teachers are, for instance, asking white students to stand up and say to the class why they are “embarrassed to be white.” Such shaming rituals damage children’s confidence and self-esteem. Parents and students are reporting such incidents and teachers should be sanctioned for such abusive behavior.) The district disagreed and will not make them available under 105.1 because they are “proprietary.” Every family should request these so the district cannot continue its evasion.
- Expect to get your request shuffled to a Director of Education. At this point, administrators will be well past the 10-day requirement to make materials available or to assert a plan to make them available. Feel free to point this out. They should know they are out of compliance with their policy.
- Administrators will push for meetings/phone calls again at the district level. Say again that you are happy to meet after giving the curriculum a comprehensive review, but do not presently schedule any meetings with the administration. Presumably, they would use any meetings to assure compliance with your review request later if it ends up in court. Meetings don’t accomplish a review of curriculum and don’t give you an avenue to opt out per state law.
- If administrators try to treat your request as an 801 “Right to Know” request, refuse treatment under 801 directly via email. Demand that they make materials available immediately under 105.1. They have undoubted ability to delay and to add cost by reconfiguring your inquiry as an 801 request. They don’t seem to have this ability under 105, which is why they will try to repackage your request under 801. At this point, you are communicating with the director of education, but most likely all communications are going through the district’s outside attorney.
Requested Curriculum Materials
- Physical materials including books, handouts, assignments, etc.;
- Electronic materials including Powerpoint or other presentations shown to student, audio recordings played, software or other media with which children interact, etc.;
- Lesson-specific materials supporting oral instruction or other in-class communication including lesson-specific teacher guides, scripts, suggested in-class participatory exercises, and/or lesson plans that teachers are provided and use to orally and interactively instruct children;
- Materials in (1)-(3) above related to “cultural proficiency,” “antiracism,” “systemic racism,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “social justice” that are standalone instruction or have or will be inserted into other core subject curriculum; and
- New teacher training materials (unabridged, unreacted, and unedited) on matters of “cultural proficiency,” “antiracism,” “systemic racism,” “BLM,” and “social justice.”