By Guy Page
Parents concerned about the pro-transgender and Diversity-Equity-Inclusion (DEI) teaching takeover of Vermont’s public schools have options. And hope.
The Vermont public school system was already full-speed-ahead on these two controversial issues before the 2023 Legislature passed two ‘shield’ laws that (among many other protections) empower educators to provide student counseling and services without parental permission or even knowledge.
Current public school leadership has no plan to address their concerns, the 40 people who attended a May 24 SPEAK-VT event in Essex learned. The SPEAK committee seeks to make Essex and Westford residents aware of school practices stemming from the school’s “equity” policy and use of “Social Emotional Learning” practices. They also seek to connect concerned parents and citizens with each other to pursue remedies to those concerns.
Some attendees may have arrived at the meeting feeling hopeless. They soon learned that parents aren’t alone and powerless to stop their children from receiving unacceptable instruction. They have options: try to change the system, or leave it for a better alternative. With both options, there are people ready to help.
These choices are embodied in the two guest speakers at the SPEAK-VT forum: Tara Ferf Jentink, State of Vermont affiliate leader for Parents’ Rights in Education, and Retta Dunlap, founder and longtime director of the Vermont Home Education Network.
In her presentation, Tara told her story of addressing concerns about the “health” education class in her child’s school. Through these conversations, Tara discovered that the content she wanted her child to learn about in health ed were overshadowed by instruction and literature that focused on transgender issues. When she asked for her child to opt out of this instruction, she was told that was impossible because it was incorporated into most of the instruction. Through Parents’ Rights in Education, Tara has received help with strategies to pursue remedies with the school district. She can be reached at Vermont@ParentsRightsInEducation.org
Retta Dunlap, of Woodbury, has “homeschooled” (one word, she insists) her own children and has advocated for others in Montpelier. She also highlighted the flexibility in subject and instruction made possible through homeschooling.
Vermont homeschooling doubled to about 5,000 students during pandemic school closures. Since schools reopened full-time, homeschooling has leveled out at about 4,000 – still higher than pre-pandemic levels. The Home Education Network is just that – home educators joining together to share materials, teacher time, and other resources for the betterment of all.
Both presenters cited case law to inform the audience of their recognized legal right to direct the education of their own children. Both also cited serious problems with recently passed legislation, H.89 and S.37 in this latest Legislative session. Both of these bills seek to shield counseling and medical practitioners for gender affirming care — even for minors and without parental knowledge or consent.
Private schools are a third option, especially for parents for whom neither fighting the establishment nor teaching their own children is an option. There’s hope and support here, too. Last month, the Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing announced three Vermont private religious schools as the winners of its first annual Challenge Grant program:
- Trinity Baptist School will increase its teaching staff, thereby providing the opportunity to increase its student population by fifty students over the next two years. Trinity Baptist is a pre-K through twelfth grade school.
- Websterville Baptist School which proposes to rearrange its facilities to accommodate fifty more students without increasing its teaching staff. The school serves pre-K through twelfth grade.
- St John the Baptist Church in Enosburg which proposes to use a multi-faceted approach to address youth and community needs. There currently is an eager and large group of volunteers on hand to ensure that their objectives are met.
There is a fourth option: vote with your feet. Leave Vermont.
All across the state, young families have pulled up stakes and moved to where (they hope) the grass is greener. Many of these families had already become disenchanted with current and future employment and housing opportunities, political under-representation, and creeping government oversight into families and the workplace. But whether the trans/DEI takeover of public schools was the main reason or merely the last straw, these parents ultimately decided that the Green Mountain State was no longer fertile ground to raise children.