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Wisconsin lawmakers look at opt-out option for parents on gender and sex classes

The state's Assembly on Education held a marathon hearing this week on a plan to allow parents to opt their kids out of classes.

Updated: September 17, 2021 - 7:42am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Wisconsin lawmakers are wrestling with the question of who should talk to their kids about sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Assembly Committee on Education on Thursday held a marathon hearing on a plan that would allow parents to opt their kids out of classes on both.

"This is merely just a way to give parents a choice," said Rep. Bob Whitke, a Republican. "Because there are a lot of concepts now that are coming out in school ... it’s being done in a way that parents don’t understand, and parents aren’t notified."

The legislation requires schools to notify parents of what is going to be taught ahead of time and allow them to pull their kids out of those lessons.

Whitke said parents should decide who gets to talk to their kids about those kinds of things.

But advocate Melissa Mael with the Middleton Wisconsin Rape Crisis Center told Whitke and other lawmakers that parents are sometimes wrong.

"Parents don’t always know what is best for their kids," she said during the hearing. "And I’d like to believe that I do."

A number of the advocates who spoke against the legislation tried to link opting-out of classes on gender fluidity or sexual orientation and rape or bullying.

But Republicans countered, saying the legislation is simply a way to let parents know what their kids, some as young as elementary-school aged, are being taught.

Wisconsin’s state superintendent said the idea is nothing more than a political game.

"When we should be focused on doing what is best for our children, our legislative leaders are choosing to focus instead on ramming through bills that stand to cause real harm to students and that have barely seen the light of day," state Superintendent Jill Underly said Thursday.

"Make no mistake, they know exactly what they are doing: using our children as pawns in a culture war. They will not win in the long-term, but they will hurt our students, our educators, and our democratic principles in the process."

Underly and the state’s Department of Public Instruction are on the record as being against the legislation.

Republicans in Madison are focusing on schools this week, they already had hearings on plans to improve reading in Wisconsin schools and to allow parents to better track where their kids’ schools spend their money.

It remains to be seen if Gov. Tony Evers will sign any of the proposals.

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