‘Parental bill of rights’ passed by Assembly is really a political power grab, critics say - TAI News
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The Wisconsin State Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that would create a list of curriculum topics about which public schools must provide advance notice to parents  before they could be taught, and would allow parents to opt their children out of lessons on such topics.

Proponents of Assembly Bill 510 call it a “parental bill of rights,” but critics say the bill is harmful to children as well as teachers.

The bill would require schools to notify parents before any “controversial subject” is discussed in classrooms. Its definition of “controversial subject” is expansive; it covers any matter of “substantial public debate,” including but not necessarily limited to “gender identity, sexual orientation, racial identity, structural, systemic, or institutional racism, or content that is not age-appropriate.”

“It is galling to me that two hours ago, Mr. Speaker, we honored a teacher in this very room and held up her incredible relationship with her students as being something to be applauded, and then two hours later we are here attacking that same relationship and attacking the schools that it happens in as something to be feared and legislated away,” said Democratic Rep. Ryan Clancy during debate on the bill, referring to the fact that the Assembly had opened its session by honoring a New Berlin teacher as a “hometown hero.” 

The State Senate’s companion bill SB 489 has not yet received a vote. The bills mirror one that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed in 2022, and it is likely he will veto this one as well should it make it to his desk.

Democratic Rep. Christine Sinicki suggested that the broad definition of “controversial subject” could result in teachers not being allowed to educate students on the Civil Rights Movement or other historical events.

The bill also allows parents to determine what names and pronouns their children will be referred to within school, even if their children’s choices differ.

Sinicki argued that many items included in the bill are unnecessary: “This long list of things that children and families need to be protected from — most of it is already policy and law.”

“‘The right to receive accurate and individual information from the child’s school at least two times per year’ — those are called report cards,” Sinicki said. “Families get them four times a year.

Sinicki also noted that the bill would open the door for parents to sue schools not in compliance with its requirements and said that this could result in schools being slapped with lawsuits over issues beyond their control. One provision, for example, mandates that parents should have the right to choose the type of school or educational setting for their child.

“I’m from Milwaukee. In Milwaukee we have a wide range of schools. However, some of them are more popular schools, are very difficult to get into because they get filled up very fast,” Sinicki said. “Is this then opening up MPS to lawsuits and complaints that their child didn’t get into the school they wanted?”

Republicans, though, were steadfast in their support for the bill.

Wisconsin Republicans continue to say the bill would give more power to parents, but it really would do exactly the opposite, said Brian Juchems, co-director of GSAFE, a nonprofit that describes its mission as working to create more just schools for LGBTQ+ youth in Wisconsin.

“Efforts to restrict books or classroom materials or lessons and conversations that happen in the classroom, really, they take power away from parents and teachers,” Juchems said. “It’s taking that power away from parents and teachers and giving them to politicians who really don’t know a whole lot about education and what and how to teach age-appropriate things.”

Juchems went on to say that education experts are best positioned to help schools make informed decisions about what lessons and learning materials are age-appropriate, not politicians. 

“It also sets a dynamic up where they’re intentionally trying to pit parents against teachers in a way that ends up being beneficial for no students,” Juchems said. All students lose when we focus on censorship or when we decide to pass vague policies that create a chilling effect that ultimately cause teachers not to teach.”

The bill passed 62-35 on party lines and heads next to the Wisconsin State Senate, where it has not yet been scheduled for a vote, though the Senate version of the bill received a public hearing on Jan. 17.

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