Where do parent rights end, and their students’ rights begin?
Albuquerque Public Schools board members took up that issue at a contentious Thursday evening policy meeting, as they discussed a new proposed policy that would lay out the rights parents have when it comes to their kids’ education.
One of the issues opponents took up was whether parents should have the right to access all of their students’ educational records with the district, including things they tell school counselors and others in confidence. The proposal would be particularly devastating to some LGBTQ+ students, according to many of its opponents.
In the end, the board voted 6-1 to table the proposal, noting they’d received a flood of related public outcry over the measure and saying they need more time. Only board member Courtney Jackson voted against tabling the proposal, but had earlier recommended striking some of the controversial language.
“We came out of this one a little too quick,” Board President Yolanda Montoya-Cordova said. “We didn’t do our homework.”
The proposed policy was introduced June 6, one board member noted. APS Policy Analyst and Legislative Liaison Heather Bassett said the policy was intended to go into this year’s student handbook, but said that may be a conversation for next year. In that case, she recommended the policy be ready for a vote sometime in November or December.
A lack of a public comment section — committee meetings don’t have them — didn’t stop upward of 30 community members from cramming into the boardroom to express their concerns over the policy. In lieu of public comments, people quietly held up brightly-colored posters with messages such as “we stand with LGBTQ+ students.”
The proposed policy’s language states that parents “have the right … to have access to all educational records of a school district concerning their child” including “educational and/or social support plans, school counseling records, and school health records.”
The proposal also states that parents have the right to “be included in any educational and/or social support plans.”
Community members sounded the alarm over the proposal ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
Groups like GLSEN Albuquerque, a local chapter of a teacher-founded national LGBTQ+ advocacy network, said that while parents have a right to know what’s going on with their children, students also have a right to privacy.
“It would be outing students,” GLSEN Albuquerque Co-Chair and Policy Coordinator Damon Carbajal said of the proposal. “If they didn’t tell their parents or guardians for some reason or the other, it’s probably not in their best interest or their safety.”
Records that were under threat, he said, included gender support plans, which were being lumped in with social support plans, Carbajal said.
Those plans come in two forms, Carbajal said — official and unofficial. The latter is more of a concern with respect to the proposal, because he said unofficial plans allow students who may be transgender, non-binary, or another identity to use their pronouns and their names in school.
Parents and guardians don’t necessarily have access to the unofficial plans, he said.
“Even though they’re youth and students, they should have some anonymity in certain things to ensure that they’re being safe,” Carbajal said.
The policy’s language also sparked concern from the school employees entrusted with helping students with their private affairs.
“APS counselors said that they were very concerned that this puts kids at risk, because kids really trust counselors,” ATF President Ellen Bernstein said.
Though the proposal was ultimately tabled, that doesn’t mean its opponents’ work is done.
“I think there’s still going to be a fight,” Carbajal said.