Schools just don’t listen to parents. Especially parents of America’s under-resourced students. So often grassroots communities say “stop making policy about us, without us,” and with good reason.

Many of us have felt the sense that we are alienated from decision-making tables and we are not always afforded real opportunity to engage with people in power who determine the course for the major institutions that govern our lives.

The pain is real, but there is also a question about when and how we show up. At almost every level of government there are opportunities for us to make a difference but those opportunities are either shielded from view, obstructed by complex processes, or unappealing for one reason or another.

All that said, I write to you today to tell you about one opportunity to speak up that you should not pass up. Did you know that you have a mere few days to weigh in on the single most important piece of federal education law aimed at defending the civil rights of your children?

Neither did I.

Here it is: The Every Students Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is that piece of legislation and it contains provisions meant to protect the rights of your students to an education. That includes provisions that inform states on expectations for parent engagement, accountability, and the equitable use of resources.

A large coalition of civil rights groups fought hard in the last Congress for inclusion of principles that hold states accountable for supporting students to do their best in school, and to be transparent when schools fail to do so.

Now the Department of Education is fielding input from the public about the rules they’ve drafted to guide states in how to fulfill the spirit of the law. There’s one catch: you only have until August 1, 2016 to be heard.

According to The Leadership Council, which is made up of civil rights groups, “the Department of Education will take into account the comments and suggestions submitted by individuals like you” before finalizing their rules.

“In order for students to have greater educational opportunity and a more level playing field, we must see accountability for the achievement of all students, parent and family engagement, easily accessible and user-friendly data, and resource equity in the final regulations…we must act fast to advocate for equity and ensure opportunities for progress for low-income students, girls and boys of color, students with disabilities, English learners, and Native American students,” they say.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and look over the principles that members of The Leadership Council developed, and then speak up on behalf of students. Even if you don’t feel like a writer, or a speaker, or even an activist, you can do your duty as a citizen by following instruction here.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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