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Not all COVID side effects are medical

By Wayne Young posted 05-03-2022 11:00

It's inarguable that the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in significant ways forever. Masking, vaccinations, social distancing, handwashing and other health-related elements of managing exposure to the virus have become ingrained in our social interactions. But there are non-medical adjustments to our daily living as well - working from home, food delivery instead of eating at restaurants, and even passing the offering plate at church all now look different.

One of the non-medical side effects of COVID has been the central role the virus has begun to play in the political arena. Mask mandates and vaccine requirements have taken center stage, but in the current election season the issue that is starting top emerge is the concept of parental rights in education.

Amidst the very public discussion about restriction of personal rights associated with COVID mitigation measures, nearly a dozen states have been considering legislation that emphasizes the pre-eminence of parental rights in directing the education of their children. Arizona, Kansas, Missouri and others are looking at adopting legislation that gives parents expansive rights to challenge educational decisions made by public schools. 

The Arizona bill would allow parents to sue teachers and other government officials if they “usurp’’ parents’ “fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children.’’ In Virginia, it could be argued that the election for governor was decided based on the winner's emphatic support for preserving parental rights in education.

These measures extend far beyond masking, vaccinations, in-person learning, or curriculum. They tend to include very broad language establishing what some have described as a parental veto over educational decisions made by school districts and educators. Some commentators see these bills as a byproduct of COVID-related mandates and restrictions, reflecting a desire among the public to re-assert individual liberties after two years of turmoil.

Kentucky is not exempt from the conversation. Senate Bill 40, sponsored by Senator Steven West, sought to establish a parental bill of rights in Kentucky. Although it eventually did not pass, it did pass the Senate and will likely be brought up again in the future. And my own anecdotal experience leads me to believe the issue will not disappear anytime soon. I received a piece of campaign material in the mail this week, touting the fact that my legislator wanted to be re-elected so he could continue to "protect the rights of parents."

The issue resonates with the public, and we will need to be ready to address it when it re-emerges.