Some of the nation's established education organizations sharply criticized Education Secretary William J. Bennett yesterday for his support of federal rules giving parents more control over "sensitive" subject areas taught in public schools.
Bennett told a news conference on Monday, "It's not hard, if one looks at the last 15 years of education, to understand why parents are distressed."
"If I were a parent with a child in school . . . , " he added, "I would take a very close look at what my son was being asked to study, because there are a lot of things in schools that in my judgment don't belong there."
Informed of Bennett's remarks, Claudia Mansfield, of the American Association of School Administrators, said:
"I don't believe it. That is not good news."
Mansfield chairs an organization of about 20 education groups that has been lobbying Congress to overturn the rules, which require parental consent before students can take part in federally funded "psychiatric or psychological experimentation."
Some conservative groups, led by activist Phyllis Schlafly, succeeded last year in persuading the Education Department to define that kind of "experimentation" broadly, so that it includes "sensitive areas" such as politics and sexual behavior.
The groups now lobbying against the rules -- developed to implement the Hatch amendment of 1978 -- have contended that the conservatives are seeking the right to censor what their children are taught.
"It's not what we expected," Nancy Young, speaking for the National Education Association, said of Bennett's remarks. "We're working to make sure those regulations are not enforced . . . . A national person should not be imposing their views on local parents."
Added Michael Resnick, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association, "I disagree that parents have been deprived of the right to discuss matters . . . . I can't imagine a parent not now being given an opportunity . . . to just call up his school board members."
Bennett said that parents wanted more input now because "parents have been burned" in the past.
If they were given more control, Bennett said, "I think that parents will give teachers and schools a fair amount of room to maneuver. . . and allow them flexibility."
Bennett made the remarks at his first news conference as secretary. He also said that bilingual education should be aimed at "getting people into the mainstream," while not committing himself to any specific bilingual teaching method.
He backed away from a previous contention that his department never should have been created.
He said education should also emphasize "the development of character" in students.