Virtual Class

Online Learning & Public Schools' True Opinions of Parents

As students across the U.S. head back to school in some form, parents and teachers begin to navigate this new, weird world of combination virtual and in-person teaching. But for some schools and teachers, the greatest obstacle to the new learning environment may come as a surprise. Parents, it turns out, are none too welcome in virtual learning environments.

This week, news broke that the Rutherford County Schools in Kentucky had requested parents sign a waiver stating they would not “monitor” their children’s virtual classes. The district has since backtracked on the waiver after parents raised concerns. The waiver, the RCS says, was not intended to “hide what was being taught in the classroom,” but rather was “to protect the academic privacy of other students in the classroom who are visible during certain virtual class sessions.”

“We absolutely believe that parent involvement is key to successful schools and students,” the RCS says in a written statement.

But parents have reason to be worried, in light of recent news coverage of one Philadelphia public school teacher’s Twitter thread on his worries about “conservative” parents undermining his important work of “of destabilizing a kid’s racism or homophobia or transphobia.” (Salvo blogger Emily Morales covers that here.) English teacher Matthew Kay tweeted on August 9, “So, this fall, virtual class discussion will have many potential spectators—parents, siblings, etc.—in the same room. We’ll never be quite sure who is overhearing the discourse. What does this do for our equity/inclusion work? . . . How many of us have installed some version of ‘what happens here stays here’ to help this?”

In response to Kay’s initial Tweet, other teachers piled on with their concerns. “Re: pronouns,” reads one response, “I was going to ask students via survey who I could use their pronouns in front of, but what if caregivers view that survey and students aren't out to them yet?” Another (college) teacher responded, “I had students refuse discussion, quickly close the screen, and type secrets into the chat because of parent [sic]/student fights at home over anti-racism and gender inclusive content.” (Kay has since switched his Twitter feed to private.)

In the book Irreversible Damage (which I covered last week), Abigail Shrier spends one grim chapter highlighting the educators and administrators who firmly believe it is their moral imperative to support very young children in “gender transitioning” or “gender identifying”—without the consent or even knowledge of their parents. One administrator told Shrier that things that used to be considered the domain of the family (sexual education, attitudes toward gender conformity or homosexuality)­—“we’re now asking schools to look at those a little more intentionally.” Others told Shrier that it was not their place to call up parents and inform them if their child has “come out” at school, because home may be a “very unsafe place” for that child. Even the NEA advises, “Privacy and confidentiality are critically important for transgender students who do not have supportive families. In those situations, even inadvertent disclosures could put the student in a potentially dangerous situation at home, so it is important to have a plan in place to help avoid any mistakes or slip-ups.”

In other words, the real danger to children, according to a lot of public schools, is their own family. Teachers and administrators increasingly view themselves as the savior of transgender or gay children (yes, children) against the values of hopelessly bigoted and uncompassionate parents. That these parents might know their children best of all, that they might have a clue how to best help their children navigate difficult terrain are truths actively discouraged by American educational establishments. This is not meant to discredit the very real work that a lot of very, very good teachers are doing—I have no doubt that many teachers still focus on content. But at the national level, the NEA and others are doing their best to undermine such work and focus instead on political or social issues.

So when one Kentucky county deliberately asked parents to refrain from viewing their students’ classes, know that this is not an anomaly. A high number of public schools view parents not as the first and best protectors of children’s well-being, but as the enemy to children’s educational and personal success.

is the managing editor of the Howard Center's quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy.

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