Less than a month after the U.S. Department of Education announced the formation of the National Parents and Families Engagement Council, a group of conservative activists last week filed a lawsuit aiming to disband the newly created council.
The goal of the Ed Department council is “to facilitate strong and effective relationships between schools and parents, families and caregivers,” according to the agency’s June 14 announcement. The council’s formation came amid debates around contentious topics like COVID-19 safety measures, critical race theory, and LGBTQ students’ rights that have led to strained school-community relationships in recent years.
Several family engagement organizations advocated for the Ed Department to launch a council or office on the matter for more than three years, said Vito Borrello, executive director of the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement. NAFSCE is represented in the Ed Department’s new council.
The lawsuit was filed against the Ed Department by three conservative organizations — America First Legal Foundation, Fight for Schools and Families, and Parents Defending Education. Ian Prior, executive director of Fight for Schools and senior advisor at America First Legal Foundation, was a senior official in former President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice.
The lawsuit alleges the Ed Department violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires an advisory committee’s membership to be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee.” The suit was filed July 6 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Nearly 80% of the leaders of organizations involved in the National Parents and Families Engagement Council have donated to President Joe Biden or other Democrats, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendant [U.S. Education Secretary Miguel] Cardona selected members that are agreeable, not balanced,” the lawsuit stated.
But this is not a suddenly formed or “fake council,” Borrello said. It’s been a policy priority that NAFSCE and other organizations have advocated for years, he said. As of now, Borrello said, the Ed Department has shown good intentions to listen to family engagement experts.
“We represent the field of family engagement. We represent parent leaders, we represent practitioners throughout the field,” Borrello said. “That is not based on politics. That is not based on whether someone is a Democrat or Republican. But that being said, best practice family engagement is best practice family engagement.”
Organizations represented on the council include The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Fathers Incorporated, Generations United, Girls Inc., League of United Latin American Citizens, Mocha Moms, National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement, National Action Network, National Military Family Association, National Parent Teacher Association, National Parents Union, The National Center for Parent Leadership, Advocacy, and Community Empowerment, United Parent Leaders Action Network, and UnidosUS.