Missouri House approves 'Parents Bill of Rights'

"We are responding to the concerns of our constituents," Rep. Ben Baker said of the bill.

Updated: April 14, 2022 - 10:29pm

A 10-page "Parents' Bill of Rights Act of 2022" was perfected in the Missouri House this week after being voted out of the Legislative Oversight committee earlier this month.

After the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee passed the bill 15-6 in February, the Legislative Oversight advanced it by a 5-3 vote in April. On Tuesday, lawmakers added 10 amendments to House Bill 1858, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho.

"We are responding to the concerns of our constituents," Baker said in his closing. "That's what this bill is about. ... There are a lot of opinions and a lot of emotion involved in this. But we have to get back to understanding parents have the right to make the decisions about the education of their child."

The bill provides a list of rights parents can require of school districts, including a review of curriculum, books and instructional materials. The bill allows parents to bring a civil action against the school district or public school where their child is enrolled for violation of stipulations in the bill. It also provides stipulations for how school boards conduct meetings.

"If you ask me is this an important bill… I would say it's more than important," Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, said during floor debate. "They think we're stupid. They think we don't care about our kids. They think we're racist, homophobic, bigots – all of the above. All the pejoratives that you call us."

An amendment by Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a tool to access every school district's curriculum and professional development materials. The bill's fiscal note projected a cost of approximately $647,000 for six full-time employees and 10 regional program support specialists and $3 million for information technology expenses.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, questioned the concept of teachers indoctrinating students with various views.

"I often joke that if I could indoctrinate students to do anything it would have been to make sure that they had some sort of writing utensil and when they walk into the classroom to take their ear buds out," said Nurrenbern, a former high school teacher.

Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, told the House the term "critical race theory" (CRT) isn't in the legislation, but he introduced an amendment reaffirming the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. His amendment stated no school or school employee shall compel a teacher or student to "personally adopt, affirm, adhere to or profess ideas (that) … individuals, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, ethnicity, color, or national origin."

"In my opinion, our approach to these complicated issues shouldn't be just to pass more laws," said Dogan, the only Black Republican in the House. "We, legislators, do that all the time. What we really need to do is to make sure that our schools are following the spirit and the letter of the laws that are already on the books."

Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, told House members no student should be made to feel "less," but said challenging conversations should take place in education.

"Discomfort isn't a bad thing," said Aldridge. "We do it a lot in this building. … CRT is problematic, not just for me or people that look like me. It's problematic for us as a whole to be able to work together."