by Aidan Pittman

Missouri News Network

Concerns over teacher intimidation and the critical thinking skills of students were discussed during a Wednesday House hearing on legislation creating a parents’ bill of rights.

House bill 2160, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, would “provide a list of rights that parents may require school districts that receive federal and state money to follow,” and would penalize such school districts violating them by withholding state funding.

The listed rights include being able to review curriculum and books, to visit their child in school during hours and to receive school records. It differs from a previous version of the bill brought up last year as it does not include a provision for a teachers’ bill of rights.

The bill also includes what Baker referred to as “guardrails to protect against the teaching of extreme racial themes in the classroom.”

The language of the bill cites the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and states that “teachers and students cannot be compelled to adopt, affirm, or profess ideas” as it would violate Titles IV and VI of the act.

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, aggressively criticized the bill for threatening to take away funds from schools and its framing of the Civil Rights Act.

Terry also said she has heard that “a lot of students are actually walking out of their classrooms because they’re not able to be taught some of the things that they want to hear and be taught.”

Another oppon ent of the bill, Rep. Doug Mann, D-Columbia, said that the bill could prevent students from learning important skills.

“We have seen (this) in states that have passed things like this,” Mann said. “That’s a detriment to the students as well because they’re not getting the activities, they’re not getting the education that they need to grow and be productive members in a society that is diverse.”

Noting her experience as a teacher, Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, D-Columbia, said reading the bill for the first time “felt very confrontational.”

Steinhoff called most of the listed rights reasonable but noted that they already are given to parents. She also said how some rights could violate parents’ rights, citing an example of how visiting during school hours could make some parents uncomfortable, and that it could harm teacher recruitment and retention “at a time when we really need to work on that.”

“I wish (this bill) would look more at how parents’ rights and educators’ rights … can work together to make sure that we have good, outstanding educational outcomes for our kids,” Steinhoff said.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, spoke supportively of the bill but said it should be reworked to include language with teachers’ rights to prevent it from scaring them from doing their jobs.

“I understand people’s opposition, especially teachers’ opposition,” Lewis said, “because they’re afraid Big Brother’s sitting on their shoulder waiting for them to make a mistake and someone’s going to come after them.”

In witness testimony, Dava-Leigh Brush, speaking against the bill on behalf of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership-Action, said it would harm education and diversity in the state, and prevent teachers from forming authentic relationships with their students.

Sharon Geuea Jones, representing the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, voiced opposition to the bill and cited cases of racially motivated violent bullying in the Republic School District.

“The response that we’re getting from the administrators in that district is that they are afraid to do anything because they don’t want to be seen as doing CRT (critical race theory),” Jones said.

Jones also mentioned how parents whose children face this aggressive harassment are “trying to figure out if it’s safe to send their kids to school.”