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Targeted by Lawsuit, Ed Dept. Abruptly Scraps Parent Council

In response, conservative groups dropped their legal action. On Friday, a letter from Republican senators called the council ‘uniformly partisan’

A news photo of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona; First Lady Jill Biden is in the background
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits Greensboro, North Carolina, in September to kick off the Road to Success Back to School Bus Tour to showcase efforts by school communities to help students recover and thrive after the pandemic. (Getty Images)

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Updated

The U.S. Department of Education on Monday abruptly disbanded a parent council created to include families in federal decisions about pandemic recovery efforts.

That action led conservative parent groups to drop a contentious lawsuit filed in July against Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, arguing members he picked to serve on the council only represented liberal-leaning organizations.

The department “has decided to not move forward with the National Parents and Families Engagement Council,” according to a statement. “The Department will continue connecting with individual parents and families across the country, including through townhalls, and providing parents and families with a wide array of tools and resources to use to support our students.”

One of the driving forces behind the council’s creation had harsh words for the department Monday, saying it “folded like a deck of cards in a moment that called for leadership.”

Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, another group on the council, said both the plaintiffs and the department claimed to be acting in the interests of parents, “but in actuality neither have done anything tangible to prove it” and were using parents “as pawns in their convoluted culture wars.”

The department announced the council in June, with plans for an initial meeting before the new school year. Parent representatives were expected to share their experiences with remote learning and thoughts on how to help students get back on track academically and emotionally.

But plans remained idle after Parents Defending Education, Fight for Schools and Families and America First Legal Foundation filed their suit. The three plaintiffs argued that the council violated a federal law that requires official advisory committees to include diverse viewpoints and for the department to publicly announce meetings. Department of Justice attorneys countered that the council was meant to act more as a “sounding board” and was not intended to serve in an advisory capacity.

In September, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed with the plaintiffs on some points, but told the parties to gather more information on the council’s actual duties. If they did not meet a Monday deadline to provide that information, Lamberth promised to dismiss the case.

Judge Royce Lamberth (Getty Images)

On Friday, five Republican senators joined the fray, sending Cardona a sharply worded letter that echoed the concerns expressed in the lawsuit. 

“The uniformly partisan members of the Council demonstrate this administration’s commitment to putting the interest of unions, teachers and non-education associations, and the radical left above students and parents,” according to the letter. It was signed by Sen. Bill Cassidy, slated to become ranking member of the Senate education committee, Sen Richard Burr of North Carolina, the current ranking Republican, and three others. 

The senators noted that President Joe Biden spoke at a gathering of the National Action Network, one of the groups chosen to serve on the council, and that LaWanda Toney, a former official at the National PTA, another organization represented, has been nominated to a position in the department.

Keri Rodrigues (Courtesy of Keri Rodrigues)

They asked Cardona how the organizations were chosen, whether officials communicated with representatives over issues such as mask mandates and critical race theory, and if there was any requirement that participants have “human children.”

“Mitt Romney has met my children,” said Rodrigues of the National Parents Union, referring to one the GOP signers. She initially called the letter “a last gasp effort” to keep the lawsuit alive, but that was before the department abandoned its plans.

The administration had two options — “disband its parent council or allow for viewpoint diversity on the council,” Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, said in a statement. “They chose to disband it. It’s telling but not surprising that they chose ideology and groupthink over a balanced representation of views.”

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