Parents’ rights groups are suing the Biden administration over the Education Department’s creation of a new parents council, which the groups argue is politically biased and violates federal law.
Fight for Schools, Parents Defending Education, and America First Legal filed a joint federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Education, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and the department's National Parents and Families Engagement Council, which was created last month as a means to find "constructive ways to help families engage at the local level," the department announced June 14.
The council was launched to "facilitate strong and effective relationships between schools and parents, families and caregivers," according to the Education Department, following more than two years of protests from parents demanding more control in their children’s education amid decisions made by school boards surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The groups suing the Biden administration say the newly created council violates multiple provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) that require balance and transparency.
FACA requires that federal advisory committees have a membership that is "fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee."
The groups claim in their lawsuit that the council’s members are allies of the Biden administration, and that nearly 80% of their leaders have donated to Biden or other Democrats.
"Defendant Cardona selected members that are agreeable, not balanced," the lawsuit states.
The groups claim that leaders at 11 of the 14 organizations selected for the committee donated to President Biden, Democratic lawmakers, Democratic fundraisers, or other associations or entities affiliated with Democrats, and that none of the organizations’ highest-ranking executive donated to Republicans or right-wing organizations.
Organizations selected for the council include Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and multiple pro-Black Lives Matter groups, including Mocha Moms Inc., United Parent Leaders Action Network (UPLAN), and UnidosUS.
"To have a fair balance of viewpoints and competent deliberation on students’ needs, there must be fairly equal representation from both sides of the political spectrum," the lawsuit states. "That is not the case here, as the Council consists of groups that are already supportive of this administration."
The groups say the council is also in violation of a FACA provision that requires the "records, reports, transcripts, minutes, appendixes, working papers, drafts, studies, agenda, or other documents which were made available to or prepared for or by" the advisory committee shall be made available for "public inspection."
The groups point to two press releases by Cardona about the council, one on June 14 that said the council would be meeting in "the coming weeks," and another press release that same day that said "the council meets to discuss how children are recovering, the different ways schools are providing academic, mental health and social and emotional support, and how families can best constructively engage with schools."
The groups say the council is violating FACA’s non-discretionary transparency and public access requirements by apparently meeting "without public notice; without making those meetings open to the public; and without timely notice in the Federal Register."
"Plaintiffs only learned that the Council has met after the DOE indicated that meetings had occurred in its second Press Release," the lawsuit states. "Regardless of whether the Council has already met, the DOE’s equivocation shows the deficiency in Defendants’ disclosure of information to the public, in violation of FACA."
The lawsuit claims that the council causes injury to the suing groups because they now have to deploy more resources to investigate the council's operations.
The groups are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to declare that the council is violating FACA and to permanently prohibit the council from meeting or conducting official business. They're also asking the court to permanently enjoin the Education Department, Cardona, and the council from "submitting, accepting, publishing, employing, or relying upon any report or recommendations produced by the council for any official purpose."
Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily said in a statement to Fox News Digital that the council’s apparent imbalance is part of a pattern under the Biden administration.
"The creation of this rubber-stamp council shows that the Biden Administration is desperately trying to whitewash its flagrant disregard for American parents by pretending to finally listen to families’ concerns," she said. "Sadly, they’ve merely shown that they really only want to listen to the views of their political allies and not the vast majority of average parents – which has become pattern and practice for this group of ideologically-motivated activists."
Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior said the council is nothing more than a "public relations mirage" following controversy last year surrounding the Biden administration’s treatment of public school parents.
"Over the past year, the Biden Administration weaponized the federal government against parents who were peacefully and passionately exercising their rights to speak at school board meetings and to be involved in the education of their children," Prior said. "This new ‘parents council’ is nothing more than a public relations mirage, behind which are the same cabal of activist groups that created the very problems that parents have been working to fix at the local level. We’re not fooled and neither will the parents that wake up every day ready to fight for their children."
Biden's Department of Justice faced a massive backlash last October after releasing a memo directing the FBI and U.S. attorney's offices to investigate "threats of violence" at school board meetings in order to combat what it called a "disturbing trend" of harassment of school officials.
The memo relied upon a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) that called for federal action to address hostilities toward school boards as possible acts of "domestic terrorism" and suggested using the Patriot Act against parents.