Petitions Submitted for Washington Ballot Measure: ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’

On Tuesday, an alliance of conservative groups submitted approximately 425,000 signatures for an initiative that aims to ensure parents have access to the materials their children are taught in K-12 classrooms as well as information about the medical services provided by public schools.

The initiative, known as Initiative 2081, would establish a “parents’ bill of rights” covering various matters including textbook and curriculum review, access to medical records, and the ability to opt their child out of assignments involving sensitive topics. The proposed ballot measure has garnered support from a wide range of individuals across the political spectrum.

Supporters of the initiative delivered boxes of petitions containing 423,399 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office in Tumwater at 1:30 p.m.

Brian Heywood, a hedge fund manager and the founder of Let’s Go Washington, which has been at the forefront of the signature-gathering effort, emphasized the importance of parents in raising children. He stated that the overwhelming number of signatures reflects the desire for a return to normalcy.

State Rep. Jim Walsh, who chairs the Washington State Republican Party and is the prime sponsor of the initiative, has played a key role in promoting this initiative as well as several others circulated by Let’s Go Washington and other conservative political groups, including Initiative 2117, which seeks to repeal the Climate Commitment Act.

These initiatives form part of a broader strategy by Republicans to challenge significant social, fiscal, and environmental policies enacted by Democratic legislators and Governor Jay Inslee, despite objections from many GOP lawmakers.

Initiative 2081 specifically targets public schools, which have become a battleground for debates on sexual health curricula, race-related issues, COVID vaccinations, and gender identity policies. The measure seeks to empower parents by ensuring they have access to educational materials and can receive copies of their child’s academic and medical records free of charge. It also grants parents the option to opt their child out of certain surveys, assignments, or activities that touch on sensitive topics. Additionally, the initiative calls for parents to be notified of any medications or medical care that could impact their finances.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is currently evaluating how the initiative aligns with existing Washington law. While most of the provisions appear to be consistent with current law, further scrutiny is required to ensure compliance with civil rights protections and Human Rights Commission determinations.

Mark Gardner, a high school teacher in the Camas School District, believes that the premise of giving parents a voice is not problematic. However, he argues that the sought-after provisions largely already exist through state law and school district policies. Gardner suggests that lawmakers should prioritize initiatives that address pressing needs, such as increased funding for support staff and paraeducators, as this would greatly benefit students.

For Initiative 2081 petitions to be certified, they must contain the signatures of at least 324,516 registered voters. State election officials recommend submitting at least 405,000 signatures to account for any that may be deemed invalid. The process of certifying valid signatures will begin after the December 29 deadline for filing initiatives to the Legislature.

Since Initiative 2081 is an initiative to the Legislature, it will first be sent to lawmakers if it meets the required number of signatures. Lawmakers can choose to adopt it as written in the 2024 session, reject it, or refuse to act on it. In the latter cases, it will appear on the November 2024 ballot. Lawmakers also have the option to propose an alternative measure to appear alongside the initiative on the ballot.