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WHO'S THE BOSS?

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Sue Anderson, president of the Colorado Parent Teacher Association, is opposing the local parental rights effort as vehemently as her national organization is fighting the federal legislation. She agrees with Rafel that the amendment goes too far in taking control of course content out of the hands of educators. "Parents have rights already," Anderson says. "And this type of bill just opens a lot of areas to be misused. Parents have a right to complete information [about curriculum] and access to appropriate people, an opportunity to participate in decision-making, and a right to appeal any decision. But it's not their right to make the decision."

And, Anderson says, an amendment that could conceivably prevent school districts from having any say in what home-schooling parents teach their children isn't a particularly good idea either. "Really, children need the interaction of other children," Anderson says. "They need to learn how to work as a group and a society. Rather than breaking down into home schools, their parents should get involved."

Marti Houser, general counsel to the Colorado Education Association, says the Parental Rights Amendment could virtually paralyze the public school system. Though her organization has yet to adopt a formal position on Colorado's Parental Rights Amendment, Houser blasts DeLay's newly formed group as simply the latest offshoot of a "very well-organized faction" active in local politics.

"It's a faction that has been working in Colorado for years--especially Tom Tancredo [of the Independence Institute]--that has been behind a number of movements or initiatives to try to take the public schools away from the public," she says. "I'm not surprised to hear about [the proposed amendment]. There's been a recent attempt in Littleton and elsewhere to get school boards to adopt parental rights policies that would give parents a lot more control over the curriculum for their child. The particular policy [in Littleton] would have required written parental permission for students to participate in certain courses and field trips."

That policy was never adopted in Littleton--much to the chagrin of Clyde Harkins, one of the original proponents of Colorado's parental rights amendment. Harkins says he welcomes parental review and consent requirements in public schools. "Parents ought to be notified any time a controversial issue is handled or discussed in a school," he argues. "It needs to be mandatory and there needs to be definite approval or disapproval; otherwise, you're being undermined.

"It's incredible how much is going on when you start looking at the data," says Harkins, who claims that school officials sometimes "covertly" include curriculum items they know parents will object to. "People have an agenda: condoms, information about abortion, promoting homosexuality. This amendment would give parents recourse to sue in court [to prevent certain issues from being taught]."

Lynne Hart, a Denver pro-life activist and "crisis pregnancy counselor" who has emerged as a leading supporter of the parental rights initiative, agrees that schools often mislead students about social issues. "I know that if anybody tells my kids that they can have safe sex they're getting bad information," she says. Hart, who sends her children to the Cherry Hills Christian School, says she wants her kids taught about abstinence, not birth control. "It's not so much a value," she argues, "It's a truth. I want them to know that abstinence is the only truly safe sex."

Safe sex isn't what Douglas Campbell thinks of when he talks about the Parental Rights Amendment. Campbell, better known for his long-term association with the taxpayers rights movement and anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce--and for his frequent guest appearances on KHNC, the Johnstown radio station that serves as the flagship of the country's "patriot" movement--is one of the eight people who signed the original initiative when it was submitted to state authorities. Like Spearing, Campbell says he got involved in the movement because of a personal experience with the Jefferson County Social Services Department some six years ago.

"When buttinskis insert themselves into your family life they're a pain in the..." Campbell pauses for the right word. "A lower anatomical part," he says with a grin.

"When my kids were three and six years old, my wife died," Campbell explains. "There were two of them and one of me. My daughter, I guess she had turned seven about then, wanted to go to the park. My son was taking a nap. So, I gave her a watch and showed her what time to come back and sent her off. Well, one of her teacher's aides saw her at the park alone and decided it was her duty to report this to Social Services. Social Services came out and determined that there was neglect because I let her go to the park alone. Remember, this was west suburban Arvada, where no one goes unless they're on their way to Utah. And because of that, I'm on some computer system as a child neglect suspect."

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Michelle Johnston