Opt-outs are Unreliable: Part 1

Public school “Opt-out” policies are simply unreliable.

The Family Foundation has consistently argued that opt-out policies fail to provide parents a reliable means for ensuring that their children are excused from school activities and curriculum that conflict with their worldview without the potential for ridicule, embarrassment, or unwarranted questions.   

Consider opt-out accommodations for family life education (FLE). We have long articulated that parents have the primary responsibility of teaching their children values and morals about human sexuality, not school administrators.  However, opt-out policies give the false impression that the school is the best environment for teaching on this subject, and that parents can only exercise their parental authority by electing to excuse their child from such sensitive FLE instruction.  Further, opt-out options only subject students to embarrassment and ridicule by having them leave the classroom, in front of their peers, before FLE instruction begins.

At least they are giving parents a secure means to remove their children from FLE instruction, right?  Not really.  The opt-out policy does not always achieve its intended goal.    

A few years ago one of my children was not properly removed from the FLE component of instruction time.  My wife and I signed my child’s opt-out form, submitted it to the teacher, but the teacher accidentally removed the wrong student and left my child in the classroom for FLE instruction.  The teacher, who is an outstanding educator and arguably one of the best teachers in our children’s school, simply made a mistake.  Unfortunately, the oversight resulted in a violation of our parental authority and forced my wife and I to address some topics that our young child was not prepared to consider just yet.  The teacher offered a sincere apology, which we accepted, and we all moved forward.  I doubt all parents, if in the same situation, would have been as forgiving and understanding. 

Nevertheless, clerical or administrative errors like this are inherent in the opt-out policy, and it is likely that oversights such as this occur often and simply go unreported.  Also, you cannot dismiss the unnecessary burden that is placed on the administrators and teachers to ensure that oversights such as this do not happen.  

In order to avoid these potential pitfalls, the best solution is to apply an “opt-in” approach to FLE instruction.  This would ensure that only students with proper approval and documentation will be allowed into a classroom in which FLE instruction was being offered.  If a school is able to work with hundreds of parents and students to assign them to their desired electives, then it should be expected that it can also work with parents to decide if an FLE class is right for their child.