Amid Curriculum Debates, Sweeping ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ Wins Initial House Approval in Missouri
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Amid ongoing nationwide debates regarding school curriculums, the Missouri House gave its preliminary approval to a "Parents Bill of Rights" on Tuesday. This proposed legislation would enable parents to file lawsuits and withhold funding from schools that repeatedly violate the rights outlined in the bill.
The bill, which is sponsored by Representative Ben Baker, aims to empower parents by granting them the right to know the curriculum being taught and allowing them to visit schools and check on their children.
Representative Baker explained, "We need to address certain issues such as age-inappropriate material, books that should not be available to students of certain ages, or the controversial critical race theory curriculum that is being taught."
The bill has expanded to include a broader scope of educational transparency, a subject that has been under scrutiny by lawmakers over the past year due to concerns surrounding how history and race are being taught in Missouri classrooms.
However, opponents of the bill argue that it duplicates the rights that parents already possess. They also criticize provisions such as the prohibition of nondisclosure agreements for curriculum review, claiming that they offer solutions to non-existent problems. Representative Baker justified such measures as "preventative maintenance."
The bill would additionally grant parents the ability to file civil lawsuits against school districts. If a court determines that a school has knowingly violated the provisions of the bill multiple times, the states allocation of funds to that school through the foundation formula would be halted until the school can prove compliance.
Representative Paula Brown expressed concern over the potential flood of lawsuits that teachers could face as a result: "This bill exposes teachers to various lawsuits related to this specific issue."
The bill requires a final vote from the House before it proceeds to the Senate for further consideration.
An amendment introduced by Representative Shamed Dogan aims to prohibit the forced adoption of ideas in violation of sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including notions of inherent racial superiority or inferiority, collective guilt based on race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, or responsibility for the actions of ancestors in the past.
Dogan argued, "We should not embrace collective racial guilt… But we should not forget the history of racial struggles. Instead, we ought to take collective pride."
While complaints regarding violations can be lodged with the state education department or attorney generals office, private lawsuits against teachers and schools in violation are not permitted under this amendment. Representative Ashley Bland Manlove of the Legislative Black Caucus opposed Dogans amendment, asserting that it still amounts to censorship and restricts the comprehensive teaching of history in schools.
Other provisions within the bill include the inclusion of public school employees salaries in the states accountability portal, the allowance for lawsuits if school boards fail to comply with requirements for public comments, and the directive for the state education department to create a database where schools must periodically post their curriculum and professional development materials.
During the debate on Tuesday, tensions ran high as lawmakers discussed the potential impacts of proposed amendments and whether controversy was being deliberately generated.
In a heated exchange, Representative Joe Adams exclaimed, "Youre worse than my students!" to Representative Nick Schroer, causing House Speaker Rob Vescovo to intervene with his gavel.
A significant part of the lengthy debate focused on what should and should not be taught to students, with Black lawmakers condemning the Republicans attempts to limit the teaching of history.
Representative David Tyson Smith dismissed the issue of critical race theory being taught in K-12 schools as a fabricated problem designed to mobilize voters. He stated, "Its a phantom problem, and its all part of a political strategy."
Despite claims from the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that critical race theory is not significantly taught in Missouri schools, and a subsequent survey indicating that hundreds of K-12 schools do not incorporate its principles, critics argue that the concept continues to make its way into classrooms under different names.
"Teaching individuals to judge others based on the color of their skin is a form of racism that must be stopped," stated Representative Brian Seitz, a Republican from Branson.
Although Seitz ultimately decided to withdraw an amendment that would have prohibited students from participating in orientation programs related to "race or sex stereotyping," he promised to reintroduce the language next year with even stronger consequences.
Representative Marlon Anderson, a Democrat from St. Louis, expressed, "If you have never experienced exclusion, you will never truly understand the importance of inclusion."
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