Tennessee passes parental rights law, bars schools from withholding kids' health information

A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016.
A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016. | REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Lee has signed into law a measure that aims to safeguard parental rights in the classroom and beyond that one advocacy group warns are being "eroded."

Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Lee approved Senate Bill 2749 Tuesday, also known as the Family Rights and Responsibilities Act. The measure passed the Republican-controlled Tennessee Senate in a 24-6 vote in March, while the Republican-controlled Tennessee House of Representatives advanced it with a 68-29 vote last month.

The votes largely fell along party lines, with all Democrats in both chambers opposing the measure while all but one Senate Republican and all but seven House Republicans supporting it.

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"The liberty of a parent to the care, custody, and control of the parent's child, including the right to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of the child, is a fundamental right," the legislation states. 

"A government entity shall not substantially burden the fundamental rights of a parent as provided under this section unless the government entity demonstrates that the burden, as applied to the parent and the child, is required by a compelling governmental interest of the highest order and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."

The rights and responsibilities granted to parents under the legislation include the ability to "direct the upbringing of the child," the right to "direct the moral or religious training of the child," the power to "make all physical and mental healthcare decisions for the child and consent to all physical and mental health care on the child's behalf." The measure also gives parents the right to "access and review all health and medical records of the child."

The Family Rights and Responsibilities Act includes a section awarding parents the authority to "direct the education of the child, including the right to choose public, private, religious, or home schools, and the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for the education of the child." Parents can also "inspect and review the child's educational records maintained by a school" and "have the child excused from school attendance for religious purposes."

As school districts across the United States have faced lawsuits for calling trans-identified students by a name that aligns with their stated gender identity as opposed to their biological sex and withholding that information from parents, the legislation attempts to address that concern. 

"A public employee shall not withhold from a child's parent information that is relevant to the physical, emotional, or mental health of the child," the legislation asserts. 

"A public employee, other than law enforcement personnel, shall not encourage or coerce a child to withhold information from a parent."

The legislation requires parental permission before schools can take videos or voice recordings of students or collect "biometric data" from them. 

Parental permission is also required for students to receive medicine or other medical or psychological treatment in most cases unless parents give blanket authorization for the school to provide such services. Parents who feel their rights have been violated under the act have the ability to seek relief in court.

According to a 2023 report from the advocacy group Parents Defending Education, at least 1,040 school districts across the U.S. attended by more than 10.7 million students have "Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Policies" that allow or require employees to keep a student's gender identity status hidden from parents. 

The bill is opposed by the ACLU of Tennessee, which contends the bill would "endanger" trans students "who have the right not to be outed and to be treated with dignity and respect at school."

The conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom reacted favorably to the bill's passage.

"Parents love and know their child best, and they have the right and duty to direct the upbringing and care of their children," Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Matt Sharp declared in a statement.

Sharp lamented that "parental rights have been eroded by government actions that exclude parents from critical educational and health care decisions."

"This legislation restrains government overreach by reaffirming the role of parents to guide the upbringing, education, and health care of their children," he said. "It ensures that parental rights are given the same level of legal protection afforded other fundamental rights, like free speech and religion." 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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