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Parental Rights, Choices & Responsibilities

If you take a look through Arizona’s state K-12 standards for health education, you will see that the vast majority of these standards (especially for elementary school students) are both non-controversial and very helpful for students to learn, in order to improve their success in life. 

If only our students had been learning practical effective physical & mental health habits, instead of worsening:

  • from almost no child obesity and very rare teen prediabetes, and much lower levels of depression & suicidality, four to five decades ago…
  • to such widespread serious problems today, including 1 in 3 teens with prediabetes, and over 40% with significant mental health challenges, across incomes & ethnicities.

There are very few parents who do not want their children to know how to:

  • Eat & drink nutritiously
  • Be physically active

…and as they get older also:

  • Handle stress
  • Not smoke
  • Not use illegal drugs or abuse alcohol
  • Avoid violence including being safe at school and in the community
  • Deal with a bully
  • Dealing in a balanced way with social media

Parental Consent: Opt-out Opt-in
However, if a parent finds certain health-related topics to be too controversial, the parent should be able to opt their student out of those class segments at their school.  (In addition, principals or school boards may just decide that certain topics are too hot to handle—at all.)

Hopefully, the parent will still deal with any significant health topic, which their child does not learn about at school, and educate their child on that topic at home—especially since, as we know all too well, dangerous student health trends are so common and varied…and worsening as students get older.

(The school could also offer alternative learning modules that parents find non-controversial, which parents can opt-in-to—to replace the part of K-12 health education that some parents find objectionable.)

Opting Totally Out:  Switching Schools
One thing that many parents in Arizona (and an increasing number of other states) like is the broad range of publicly-funded school choices:  a huge variety of district schools, charter schools, Christian and secular private schools—and even publicly funded home schooling. 

Ultimately, if a parent feels strongly enough about the way a school is teaching any subject, including physical or health education, or for example how it is handling school counseling—the parent can switch schools.

Parental Components for Learning
It is widely recognized in health education of children, that the most effective programs should ideally include parents in the learning design.

For younger children, who are making few big health or other life decisions on their own, these “parental components” recognize parents’ control of almost all aspects of their kids’ lives.  For example, you can teach children healthy nutrition practices at school—but if parents aren’t on board, kids may still have less healthy food at home.

Then as children age into adolescence, they start to become more independent.  However, even though teens may think they know it all—their parents still need to be involved in guiding their kids’ lives.  So parental components can also play an important role in the teen years.

Preparing Kids for a Healthy Life
But health trends among our children and adolescents are too dangerous to not deal with.

We cannot afford to simply ignore preventive education K-12—as we have to a large extent for decades.  Or to focus narrowly on and argue incessantly about the most controversial issues—when there are so many non-controversial health-related topics which need to be addressed.

Schools should be required to provide reasonable opt-out and opt-in alternatives for parents in health education.  But neither parents nor schools should “throw out the baby/student with the bath water”—by never dealing with health issues.

For many of our children’s futures:  this is literally a matter of life or death.