Missouri lawmakers revisit banning the teaching of racism in classrooms

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A fight over critical race theory is heating up in the Missouri Capitol as Republican lawmakers file a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to give parents control of what their student is taught.

Rep. Doug Richey (R-Excelsior Springs) and Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, want to require all schools to lay out the curriculum students are taught for parents.

“There’s much in this bill that I have talked with administrators about, who say we already do this and to that I say good,” Richey said to committee members Tuesday. “Parents have a fundamental right, responsibility, and authority when it comes to their children.”

The two told the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee their goal is to also want to ban the teaching of critical race theory and look at possibly exempting students from vaccine requirements.

“This bill is in no way trying to stop kids from thinking,” Schroer said. “I think it is trying to prevent educators, prevent institutions, from flooding kids with a certain train of thought, teaching kids this is the only way to think about the situation.”

Richey said the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” in public schools allows parents to be informed of what their student is being taught and then have the right to opt their child out of the lesson.

“If the parent wants to be notified in advance to something that is controversial, then the parent has to define that,” Richey said. “It’s not to blow apart public education. It’s not to disparage public education. It’s about trust.”

Under House Bill 1995, Richey’s legislation requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to develop a form school district’s can give for parents to opt out of certain lessons. It also creates the “Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal” to give access to every school district’s curriculum, material, and professional development materials. The bill would establish a process for parents to file complaints about school boards and give the attorney general the ability to sue schools that violate the legislation’s provisions.

“Parents that are given three minutes at night to talk only on subjects that the school board wants them to talk on and we can’t stop that unless we do something up here,” Rep Craig Fishel, R-Springfield, said. “I’m in a community that has the largest school system in the state, and we are locked out.”

Schroer’s proposal, House Bill 1474, would also create a bill of rights for parents, requiring school districts that receive any federal or state money to know what their child is being taught and have transparency regarding school boards. It also always parents to stop in at the school and check in on their child during the school day, concerning some lawmakers about safety.

“Does that give the parent the right to go down to their child’s classroom, to sit in that classroom with the teacher who they may have had an issue with on a grade?” Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, asked the sponsors. “Does that open it up for a parent to go down and sit in a teacher’s classroom in an intimidating manner?”

Schroer responded by saying once they combine the two bills, those details will have to be ironed out.

“We are going to have to be very careful to address those concerns, so we are not going to the courts over every single piece,” Schroer said.

CRT became a heated topic at the end of the 2021 legislative session, but nothing ever made it across the finish line. Over the summer, the DESE gave 500-plus school districts a survey about CRT. Kansas City Public Schools is the only district that said it taught criteria that fell under the subject.

The first question read: Does your LEA’s board-approved curriculum include lessons about CRT?

The only school to answer yes was Kansas City Public Schools, explaining their answer by saying: “We offer an African Centered College prep magnet school that services both elementary and secondary students. The board also approved the 1619 Project service-learning and community activism grant to be taught during summer school. The curriculum is fully aligned with the Missouri Learning Standards.”

Five schools left the answer blank and 419 districts said no.

The second question read: Does your LEA’s board-approved curriculum include The New York Times’ 1619 Project?

Three schools answered yes: Hazelwood School District, Kansas City Public Schools, and the School District of University City.

Hazelwood outlined how the 1619 Project is taught in the following grade levels:

4th Grade Social Studies – The 1619 Project is listed as one of the teacher resources about the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown.

8th Grade Social Studies – Students are given a reading of two paragraphs from the 1619 Project describing the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown.

9th Grade US History – The 1619 Project is mentioned in a suggested learning activity where President Trump discusses the 1619 Project and the 1776 project.

University City explained its answer by saying: “Our board did not approve the 1619 Project. One of our teachers used the resource during one unit of study with students.”

DESE has previously said it does not issue guidance on CRT because it’s a local control state.

Texas, Tennessee, Iowa, Idaho, and Oklahoma have previously passed similar legislation prohibiting CRT in schools

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, fears banning certain topics and the bill of rights could lead to trouble.

“When we put some of these pieces in place, we are setting people up just to be in court and that is a big concern,” Brown, a former educator, said.

Kansas City Democratic Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, another former teacher, said the legislation would be a “trojan horse to destroy quality education.”

“These laws would create a chilling effect on teachers who would be afraid to teach anything remotely related to banned curriculum,” Nurrenbern said.

Some parents stressed during the hours-long meeting, they don’t like the idea of other parents controlling what is taught.

“Makes me wonder whose rights because at this point, what I’m hearing is a small minority of people will be able to make decisions about what my child will be able to have access to,” Heather Flemming said. “I agree totally that parents have the right and indeed the responsibility to have control over what their children learn and what their children are exposed to, but they do not have the right to make that decision for me.”

Members need to vote the legislation out of committee before it heads to the House floor for debate.

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