Impact of Alabama ‘parents’ rights’ bill unclear

Sponsor says bill won’t affect existing laws, but parents of transgender children worry about vague language

By: - February 14, 2023 7:00 am
Rows of desks in a classroom, each with a purple textbook on top. A whiteboard and projector are visible in the background.

A bill would authorize the use of cameras in special education classrooms. (Getty)

A House Republican has filed a “parents’ rights bill” ahead of the legislative session. 

HB6, sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham, says that the government cannot “burden the fundamental right of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, care, and custody of his or her child.” The bill allows government intervention if there is a “compelling state interest and the government uses the least restrictive means possible to further that interest.”

Paschal said in a recent interview that the bill would codify Alabama Supreme Court rulings on parental rights. 

“I call this a common sense bill,” Paschal said.

Similar bills filed around the country have been aimed at targeting the teaching of certain subjects in school. But other impacts are unknown. On paper, the bill appears to mirror arguments made by families of and advocates for transgender children against a state ban on puberty blockers and hormones for transgender minors that the law interfered with their right to make the best decisions for their children’s health care.

But Cardelia Howell-Diamond, a parent to two transgender teenagers, pointed to the ‘compelling interest’ part of the bill, and said it made her want to cry.

“I would like to think the law would include me, my husband, and our doctor’s judgements about what is best for my transgender child, but somehow feel they would see the transgender as a ‘compelling reason’ to deny my rights,” she wrote in a text message.

Parents’ rights bill were filed in at least 35 states last year, according to The 19th. The bills would have allowed parents to review curricula or withdraw students from lesson plans they found objectionable. Educators and researchers told The 19th that these bills could create a hostile climate for teachers and make it seem as if parents don’t have rights in education already.

The Alabama Education Association did not immediately return a request for comment. Paschal said the bill would not impact child abuse cases, which he said are defined under state interest, or compulsory school attendance laws.  The representative said he has been in touch with the Department of Human Resources and State Superintendent Eric Mackey about the development of the bill.

“I think it’s a good bill,” Mackey told reporters after a work session of the Alabama State Board of Education last week. “I think it walks, it makes it clear that we do believe parents have a right to direct their child’s education, but at the same time, the school has to have, if a child is going to be in school, they’re going to be in school.” 

Terrence Wilson, the Regional Policy and Community Engagement Director at the Intercultural Development Research Association, an independent, non-profit education research center based in Texas, said that these bills “micromanaged” teachers and could dissuade them from joining or staying in the profession.

“What we’ve seen with the current iteration of parents’ bills of rights is that, you know, you can have one parent can come through and object to a piece of content, right, for reasons that are ill-defined,” he said.

The bill codifies the rights of “fit parents” but does not define what “fit” is. Paschal said the definition of fitness came from previous laws and the findings of courts in individual cases of abuse and neglect.

“And so we really don’t define what fit is because it’s assumed that you’re fit,” he said. “But we do have laws that specify what unfitness is.”

The legislation has the support of the Alabama Republican Party, which passed a resolution calling for a bill like it at a conference last year 

Paschal said the bill would not affect any bills that have passed previously. When asked about why he sponsored the legislation if it did not impact any laws, Paschal said it was to lay out “foundations” and for Alabama to “get back to basics.”

“We have a current law that requires the Department of Human Resources to address, intervene when a child is being abused or neglected,” he said, “This bill will not change that law, will not change any other law that’s currently on the books.”

Paschal raised concerns about government overreach in other states, though he did not give specifics. He said that this bill would not prevent anything.

Last year, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law banning prescriptions for puberty blockers and hormones for transgender youth. The law passed over the objections of transgender youth and their families, who said that access to the medicines could be critical to their children’s well-being, and said the measure improperly interfered in parental decisions.

“The Act cuts off adolescents’ medically needed care and exposes parents and medical professionals to criminal consequences for the parents’ exercise of their constitutional rights to seek established care for their minor children,” attorneys for plaintiffs seeking to overturn the law wrote in a brief last August.

Jeff Walker, the father of a tenth-grader who is transgender, said it could be used for further attacks on transgender youth, pointing to the parts of the bill that vaguely defined what “fit parents” and “state interests” were as. If it wasn’t for those, he said, he would likely be a supporter of the bill.

“I love the idea of a law that would say, ‘Look, I’m a dad, I’m a great dad, I’m trying to take care of my kids, stay out of the way of the care, the medical care that I plan to give my child,” he said. 


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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.