Orange Unified School District Board President Rick Ledesma and Board Member Madison Miner want to make clear what rights parents have in the school setting, spearheading a new policy amid debates across the country on what books should be available to students.

At a special board meeting on Tuesday, board members voted unanimously to adopt a policy that will grant parents and guardians public access to curriculum, instructional materials and books as well as information on how to opt their children out of sexual education.

Critics say parents already have those rights in the district and worry it will open the door to book bans while proponents say it’s a consolidation of those rights in a single policy – one that protects the voice of parents.

Miner said while some parents are happy with the education their students are receiving, others are concerned. She said the policy is a starting point and called for a “Student Bill of Rights” to also be brought before the board in the future. 

“​​We need to continue working through this, and making sure that we are listening to the voices of our parents in the school district,” she said.

Board Member Kris Erickson said parents already have those rights and called the policy “political theater.”

“You’re painting a picture of a problem that doesn’t exist,” she told Ledesma.

“What I’m doing is I’m giving parents a tool here to work from,” Ledesma responded

Erickson called for amendments to be made to the policy including – children having full access to age appropriate books, that the district will follow state law in regards to academic content, allow parents to advocate for children in their native tongue and protect student rights.

But a majority of board members did not support her amendments.

The vote comes amid increased debates in Orange County school districts – and even in Huntington Beach – on what books and materials are appropriate for students and children to read while others raise concerns of book bans.

[Read: Surf City Politicians Want to Decide What’s Obscene At the Local Library]

It also comes amid local pushback against a recently proposed state law that would require school boards to get approval from the State Board of Education before stopping the teaching of certain curricula or removing instructional materials and books from school libraries.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Attorney General Rob Bonta and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond warned school district officials across California in a letter that any book ban can result in inquiries from Bonta’s office.

PEN America, a literary and rights advocacy group, has reported an escalation of book bans and censorship in the 2020-23 school year across the country – focused on materials centered on race, gender, sexual orientation and history.

Earlier this year, the district temporarily suspended their digital library, Sora, following concerns of age inappropriate books being available to younger students.

[Read: Orange Unified School District Reinstates Digital Library After Parent Concerns]

Orange Unified School District Board Members also debated Tuesday on what flags should be allowed to be flown over government properties.

Board Members unanimously voted to adopt a policy allowing only the United States and the California flag on district and school flag poles – effectively banning the Pride flag from being hoisted on those poles during Pride month.

Board Member Andrea Yamasaki took issue with the agenda items being brought for a vote at a special meeting voicing concerns the policies were being rushed without ample time for input from parents amid the summer break.

In the end, Yamasaki voted in favor of both policies.

Parental Rights Policy

The “Bill of Rights” policy aims to ensure parents and guardians have the right to know what their children are being taught and to protect their privacy, the right to be heard, and the right to inspect curriculum and the district’s budget.

It would also require the district website to have information on how to opt out kids from sexual education, information on immunization requirements as well as provide parents a list of books available at the library.

The policy also forbids selling students data for commercial purposes and requires parents to be informed in a timely manner if a third party group is brought to a campus to speak to students.

View the policy here.

Some parents spoke in support of the policy fearing that their rights as parents are being undermined and attacked at schools with new pressures from the state.

Others expressed concern that this will be a tool used to arbitrarily remove books and materials from the class and called the policy unnecessary because they are rights parents already have in the district.

Pride Flag Ban

Pride flags as well as other flags – including school banners – except the U.S. and State flag will be banned from flying on district and school flag poles under a policy amendment.

When speakers brought up and spoke against the Pride flag in their remarks, however, Ledesma urged them to keep their comments to the item at hand and said it had “nothing to do with the Pride flag.”

Gregory Pleasants, a parent, disagreed.

“The first few speakers gave the secret away,” he said. “This is a covert effort to exclude the Pride flag, and to hate on our gay and lesbian and trans students and children.”

Pleasants has filed a complaint against the board alleging violations of the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act open meeting laws.

Erickson questioned if any flag other than the American and California flag have flown on school flag poles. 

“Nobody’s asked to fly any other flag,” she said. “These flags have always been flown in front of our schools and I just think again, it’s somewhat performative.”

Ledesma said this will create a standardized policy.

This is not the first ban of its kind in Orange County.

Huntington Beach earlier this year banned flying the rainbow Pride banner on city property by adopting a policy limiting what flags can be hoisted at government buildings.

Orange County Supervisors adopted a similar policy this month even though they later voted to recognize June as Pride month.

[Read: Orange County Recognizes Pride Month But Won’t Fly Rainbow Flag]

Meanwhile, OC Human Relations Commission’s annual hate crime report released September shows an 83% increase in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in 2021.

Hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community have increased by 2,100% since 2017, according to the commission.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

•••

Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.