It’s back to school time! But preparing for school no longer only means buying pencils and binders and other supplies, it also requires being prepared to stand against the woke ideology that has penetrated classrooms across the country.
Parents sending their kids to public school, and even some private schools, need practical tools to equip them to protect their children from gender ideology, inappropriate sexual content, and critical race theory.
Jill Simonian, a school mom, says she was shocked when she realized “how corrupt the system was and the age-inappropriate lessons and ideologies and lies that our children were being taught in their classrooms.”
Simonian, director of outreach for PragerU Kids, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” today to discuss what classes parents should consider opting their children out of, how to file freedom of information requests with a school district, and the best ways to build relationships with school administrators to learn what’s being taught in class.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined today by the director of outreach for PragerU Kids, Jill Simonian. Jill, welcome back to the podcast.
Jill Simonian: Hi. It’s so nice to be here.
Allen: Go ahead and share with us just a little bit about what PragerU Kids is and what is your mission.
Simonian: PragerU Kids now is about a year and a half old, and honestly, it feels like it’s been a lot longer than a year and a half in the best way possible, in the best way, because we’ve produced almost 200 pieces of content for kindergartners through 12th graders, educational content that honors American history, that teaches our American values, responsibility, hard work, equality of opportunity under God, freedom, all of these things that we value in our country that we want our children to learn, but unfortunately, many schools and teacher unions are no longer teaching inside of our classrooms.
So, yeah. PragerU Kids is essentially a free digital video network and we do produce books and magazines, too, so that we can educate our kids about our American values to save the future of this country. That’s what we like to say.
Allen: Absolutely. Well, and I know that mission is so important to you. It’s so dear to your heart, not just because you work at PragerU, but also because you’re a mom yourself and you understand the importance of ensuring that our kids are getting a strong education, that they’re learning American values, that they’re learning about our founding.
Right now, we’re in that season once again of kids returning back to school. And while some families have the privilege of deciding, “You know what? I’m going to homeschool my child,” “I’m going to send them to a private school,” many families don’t have that option and they need to send their kids to public school.
It’s so important to talk about what are the tools that parents do have in order to protect their kids within the public school system. So for parents thinking, “I want to make sure that my child is not being indoctrinated with woke ideology at school,” where should they start? Where’s the starting block?
Simonian: The starting point for me, and I speak as a mom of two elementary school daughters who were in public school up until literally last year this time, I always had great affection for our public schools, I was a believer in public education. My sister, mother, grandmother, all public school teachers who really honored and continue to honor our country and in their own classrooms and schools and school districts.
But I woke up, and the first step is really coming to the conclusion that our education system is broken. And it’s heartbreaking for me to say that. It was terrifying and, dare I say, devastating last year this time when my husband and I finally made the call, “Look, we have to pull our children out of this public school district that we moved to the area specifically for to attend because we thought it was so great.”
It was a wake-up call and it was something that once we saw how corrupt the system was and the age-inappropriate lessons and ideologies and lies that our children were being taught in their classrooms, that was the first step.
As a parent, when you see something like that, you realize that you cannot unsee it. The first step was knowing that something was wrong and that we had to make a change.
Thankfully, we were able to pull our kids out and find a classical education school that really honored our family values because that is our fundamental right as parents, to be able to guide the education of our children that align with our values. That is the first step in actually realizing and acknowledging and saying, “Yes, there is a problem here.”
Allen: Oh, there is a big problem in our education system, really, in public schools across the board. I think we started hearing several years ago about large cities where public school systems like in New York City or something were turning woke, but now, you’re finding this ideology in small towns and just all across the country. It feels like nowhere is quite safe.
So I want to talk about tools for those parents that think, “Ugh, I wish I could pull my child out, but I can’t, I don’t have the resources. I need to have them in public school,” just how they can actually go about protecting their child.
We hear stories of public school districts that have policies to affirm a child’s gender identity without actually telling parents that they’re doing this. So a school could, in theory, be calling a child by a different name, by different pronouns, and the parents would never know.
How can parents find this kind of information out, of, “Is my child’s school, is my school district using policies like this? Have they set policies in place to withhold information about gender identity or things of this nature from me as a parent?” Where can parents find this information?
Simonian: I think the first thing that everyone needs to get informed about—and this is a personal journey for me as well. I’m in California, and there’s a lot going on in California in many different ways.
Allen: There sure is.
Simonian: The first thing that parents should do is, in fact, look at your state laws. I know in California, tweens have the authority to obtain medical guidance and medical information and possibly medical procedures without requiring parental consent, and that is extremely disturbing to me as a parent.
I know how disturbing it is to many of my friends and other parents who simply did not realize it can start at age 12 with a child not requiring parental consent to obtain some kind of a medical guidance.
We’ve seen it in different headlines all last year, different high schools inserting gender-affirming transition closets, as they like to call them, where children can arrive to school at middle schools and high schools and change their clothes into whatever gender they feel as though that they need affirmation for and the parents will not be informed. We’ve seen it with different rules about children’s restrooms, gender-neutral, boys versus girl, all of these things.
I think when it comes to the medical guidance that parents need to be aware of is parents need to look at the emergency forms that are distributed at the beginning of the year, distributed by the schools, I should say.
A lot of times, as parents, we go to those parent/teacher meetings and they distribute all the forms that are required to be signed before the start of school, rightfully so. “Do we as a school have permission to administer treatment to your child in the case of a medical emergency?”
All of those forms I would always take for granted and just sign because I would think, “Of course, if my child falls off the monkey bars and breaks her arms, of course, I want medical attention. Of course, of course, of course, if something happens, of course, we want medical attention. They get a cut, they get a bruise, we need to bandage up.”
That’s where my mind goes, and that’s where most reasonable people’s minds go, into that kind of medical intervention.
But now, we are dealing with something larger, gender-affirming pronouns. These are psychologically and physically damaging ideologies that are being endorsed by teacher unions, that are being endorsed by the state to be able to give to children.
That’s what parents need to realize when we look at these emergency forms, that we are just blindly signing medical permissions for our kids. So look at the forms, read all of them.
What I would personally do is write notes. You know how in a contract, sometimes people cross things off and put in their own notes and then sign it and say, “This is contingent, my signature is contingent that all of these things will be met”?
I would put notes on the medical forms that you hand into each of your schools and ask the school administrators, ask the board of education in your local area, ask the principal, ask the teachers, “What are your policies should a child come to you? What are the guidelines that you have that this school will be abiding by when it comes to all of these issues that are very long-term damaging?”
Keep that in mind when you look at emergency forms and write the notes on the side saying, “My child is … you are able to administer medical care for these following things. Make sure that I am called first and foremost should any of these emergencies happen.”
You just have to get really detailed and involved on those emergency forms.
Allen: Got it. Now, what about language? Words are a big deal, and especially in this day and age, there’s a lot of keywords that are being thrown around on the left and have found their way into our education system. Are there any specific phrases or even names of classes that should raise red flags for parents when they hear their student’s teacher use them or a school administrator use them?
Simonian: The red flags for me that I learned last year that was quite alarming were SEL, social-emotional learning, and DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Social-emotional learning has been around for a few decades now. Social-emotional learning has made its way nationally into our public schools, and it sounds great, it sounds as though you want children to be emotionally well to enter the classroom, to be of sound mind, open mind, ready to learn no matter what kind of atmosphere they’re coming from from home.
SEL is created by an organization called CASEL, casel.org. If you’re able to look that up for your listeners, look up casel.org. It’s a national organization that creates SEL programs distributed to classrooms.
And they create different surveys and they say that these surveys that they want to deliver to children directly for children to fill out without parental reading, or consent, or any of those things is for the well-being of the child so that they can assess how open that child is for learning, how ready that child is for learning, how emotionally healthy they are.
But in these SEL surveys, a mom by the name of Lisa Logan actually alerted me to this last year, in these SEL surveys, they ask very invasive questions at times about family values. …
I mean, my daughter a couple years ago got an SEL survey in class, without my knowledge, I found out after the fact. But she was asked, one of the very first questions, if she considered herself nonbinary. At the time, my third grader didn’t even know what that meant.
I found out about it and, in so many words, kind of hit the roof, and went to my local school board meeting and said, “What is this you’re giving to my child?”
SEL is one of those language tricks that we’ve fallen for because it seems as though these surveys and lessons are meant to enrich the child, but what they’re really doing is asking invasive questions that might be age-inappropriate, that might pit students against each other in a victim-versus-oppressor way.
Some of these SEL surveys, my daughters, asked a question to the effect of, “When you do well on your homework, do you feel bad that you did better than your neighbor sitting next to you, and how does that make you feel?” Well, that’s confusing, you understand?
These are all confusing things that children should not be answering, especially without the consent of their parent or the knowledge of their parent.
DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion—is pretty much in every single school district now.
Again, the words sound great. Diversity, great. Everyone wants to live in a diverse world, celebrating our differences.
Equity is a trick on words because usually the word that we value is “equality,” we are created equal, we are equal under God, but the word “equity” does not mean “equality.” Equality of opportunity means that everyone has a chance to rise up and do hard work. Equity means that everyone essentially ends up in the same place. …
For example, in a local school district here in Southern California, implementing equity ideologies in the school district essentially meant that the high school limited their merit-based math program, the accelerated math program, so that the accelerated math programs became more limited than in years past because they didn’t want students to “feel bad if they did not accelerate at the same pace of their peers.”
So equity is a dangerous concept that really just moves away from anything merit-based in the education system.
Inclusion—DEI: diversity, equity, and inclusion. Inclusion sounds great because we should treat everyone by the golden rule, right?
Everyone deserves to be included. Everyone deserves dignity and respect, human-to-human, student-to-student. But inclusion also means in this new language that if you change your pronouns and I don’t agree with it, then I must affirm what you deem appropriate no matter what.
And inclusion does not mean inclusion of everyone, it really means exclusion if you are not on the side that we believe.
Those are the types of things that I think parents really need to go to their school websites, go to the school meetings, and really see what kinds of initiatives are coming down the pike.
When it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion; SEL: social-emotional learning, we need to ask questions and say, “How is this affecting our academics? How is this affecting the curriculum that’s being delivered in the classroom?”
Inclusion could mean showing junior high students about “the benefits of abortion” because they are including all sorts of thoughts. Well, is that appropriate to show?
Those are the things that we need to just really stay on top of and be active and engaged.
Allen: Thank you for sharing that because those are words that you’re so right, they sound so nice on the surface and you hear them and you think, “Well, how could I not be for that?” But you dig a little deeper and you realize there’s a lot more behind these words than is just what’s on the surface level.
What we have seen is that some parents, when they go to their schools and they start asking those questions and they say, “Hey, what does this mean?”, or, “What is my third grader actually learning about?”, that schools put up walls right away and they stonewall and they don’t want to answer those questions.
There’s actually, though, a tool that we as American citizens all have called FOIA requests, the Freedom of Information Act. Talk a little bit about FOIAs, what they are, and how parents can use this tool that we have in our tool belt to be able to get information about what our kids are actually learning.
Simonian: Right. Well, it’s funny because I did not know about FOIA when my kids were in the public school system, and I remember a fellow parent who was asking questions alongside myself.
Actually, also, I do want to back up and I should before I go into FOIA. I do want to recommend to parents, opt your children out in writing when it comes to SEL, DEI activities, certain sex ed that will be delivered. That is our right to opt our children out of receiving those certain activities, if they do not align with our values. It is the right protected by law.
Opt your children out. Send an email to the school. Send an email to the district to formally opt your child out of those things.
But back to FOIA, I did not know what a FOIA request was. “FOIA” stands for “Freedom of Information Act.” A fellow parent actually filed one of these in our former school district at the time.
We have a right to know what’s going on in our kids’ classes, right? With that right comes our ability to know what type of communication, public information is being exchanged between teachers, administrators. We can find out all of these things—emails, curriculum details, paper trails—by submitting what’s called a “FOIA request.”
At pragerukids.com, we do have a section under a resources tab that has a parent action guide that guides us through this for how to file a FOIA request.
In fact, I’m actually on my computer right now. If you look up FOIA, you will find that you can submit an official request to your school district that asks for communications, curriculum, things that are going on in the district that are technically public information, but that your school might not be communicating with you. And you can find out what is happening and then present it to your school.
Now, you got to be specific with your request. First of all, you have to check and see that the information is already publicly accessible. You have to submit your request in writing.
But the things you can find out about are online educational materials because a lot of these schools now, yes, they teach in the classroom, but a lot of these schools employ outside agencies that provide school districts with videos to show in their classrooms as part of the educational curriculum, and a lot of these outside agencies are, in fact, politicized, so you can find out what kinds of curriculums are being used in the classroom that you might not be aware of, what type of professional development the school district is doing with their teachers.
A couple weeks ago, news broke that San Diego Unified School District was having teacher trainings that were very, I want to say, strong in gender-affirming narratives. And they were training teachers how to supersede parental authority when it came to affirming genders and gender inclusivity at schools. It was really disturbing.
If you go online, you can find it, but these are the types of things that you can request through a FOIA to find out what’s really happening in your district behind the scenes.
You can also request emails or texts between employees, teachers, board members, administrators in office. Remember that teachers and public school teachers and administrators are employees of the state and so what they do is public information, so these are all the types of things that you can request through a FOIA.
Once you get the information, we’ve talked about this a lot at Prager Kids, but you have to take the information to a public forum, to a school board meeting, to a PTA meeting, and say, “I really want to discuss what I found. It is disturbing. It is age-inappropriate in the following ways. It does not serve educational purposes for when it comes to academics. Why is this going on? As a parent, I have a right to say that this is not appropriate for my child in school.”
We have these frameworks that really are protective of what our parental rights are and it’s a matter of knowing that they’re available for us to use.
Allen: So critical. Well, the last tool that I want to mention briefly for parents to use to really find out what is happening in their child’s classroom is just getting into the school building yourself as a parent, giving your time to volunteer, and having that interaction with school administrators, with teachers.
One way to do that is by actually just volunteering in your school library, by giving the time to be present in that school library. I think there’s two advantages to that, you’re getting to actually see the books that kids are reading.
Allen: Then also, hopefully, you’re having some conversations with those who work at the school and building rapport and relationships to where they’ll be open and willing to tell you what really is going on in the classroom, right?
Simonian: Yes. I mean, we were kept out of our kids’ classes for about two years, and there’s a lot that you can revise inside of a library for two years.
Listen, I don’t want any of this to be misconstrued as, “Oh, we want to ban books.” I don’t believe in squelching freedom of speech, I don’t believe in banning books. But the issue that most of us parents are concerned about is the actual appropriateness of those books for a school.
And there’s a big difference between banning a book because you don’t like its content or saying, “This book is really not appropriate to have in a school because it is of sexualized nature,” etc., etc. That’s the difference.
And to get inside of our kids’ libraries to volunteer, to be a library volunteer at your kids’ class, to volunteer to be in your kids’ school activities, the extracurricular activities, all of these things give us insight as parents to really see, “OK, what’s going on here? What is being said?”
I’m a big believer in always talking to my own kids about freedom and responsibility and the things that I always took for granted that were being taught at our public school.
While I’m driving my kids back and forth, I would much rather talk about fun, easygoing things, about going to the beach or what we’re going to do on the weekend rather than talk about what a democratic republic is, but … this is where we’re at.
I didn’t know as a mom really how to broach these topics about our history or our values, I didn’t know how to approach them.
But what we’re doing at PragerU Kids really is giving parents—and teachers, for that matter—the resources, the videos to set a foundation to have a conversation about, “What does free speech mean?”, “What does it mean to be free?”, “What is the price that we paid to be a free country?”, and all of these things so that when our kids are force-fed the radical political garbage in the classroom, they have a foundational knowledge of a moral compass and saying, “I respect my teacher as an authority figure, but what this teacher just told me does not align with my family values, and I know better because my mom and dad are talking with me about this every single day.”
We have to talk to our kids and we’ve made it easy at pragerukids.com. Parents can subscribe for free. I always, I tell my kids, I go, “You can watch a few videos of PragerU Kids and then you can play your video game.” But it’s true, we need to.
They’re our children to raise, to educate, and we have the fundamental right of really getting involved in their education in a really positive way to partner with schools, but also to be really stern and firm and convicted when it comes to calling something out for being inappropriate in education.
Allen: Director of Outreach for PragerU Kids Jill Simonian. Jill, I want to thank you for your time. For all of our listeners, if you want to learn more, if you want to get involved with PragerU Kids, just look up prageru.com/kids. It’s all there. You can find the videos, the materials resources. But Jill, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it and appreciate the work that PragerU is doing.
Simonian: Thank you so much. It’s so great talking to you.
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