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Minnesota GOP senators roll out school parent rights plan

Republicans asserted parents' need to feel more empowered to engage with teachers and school boards about curriculum issues.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Republican lawmakers Monday unveiled a package of legislation dubbed the "Minnesota Parents Bill of Rights" which includes a variety of bills they assert will give parents more access to what their children are being taught.

In a State Capitol news conference, Senate Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, a Lino Lakes Republican, said parents need to know they can interact with local teachers and school boards without feeling they'll be harassed.

"Children are not a creation of the State! They do not belong to the schools! They do not belong to the state and to the Department of Education. They belong to their parents!" Senator Chamberlain told reporters.

The bills included in the GOP Senate Majority plan would do the following.

  • Prohibit schools from withholding information about classes or their children's well-being from parents.
  • Require teachers to provide parents a copy of the course syllabus within the first two weeks.
  • Require the school district to provide copies of course materials to parents free of charge
  • Bar school boards from asking parents for their addresses at public meetings that are being recorded
  • Create taxpayer-funded educational savings accounts that could be used to pay for private tutoring on private school tuition

"A mom in Roseau asked for a fifth grade reading list and was told she really didn’t need to see it," Sen. Michelle Benson, a Ham Lake Republican, explained.

"Every parent has the right to know what goes on with their child in every classroom every day. Parents are primarily responsible for their children and have a right to know what their children are being taught."

Senator Paul Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake, told reporters that existing law already allows parents to excuse their children from classroom lessons that run counter to the family's beliefs, but it's important to make sure parents are aware of what materials will be seen in school.

"Under curriculum transparency, if the parents object to the material, alternative instructions may be provided by the parent," Senator Gazelka told reporters.

He said it's not likely that parents will be super curious about math and science, but they will want to know about other topics.

"It’s gonna be social studies standards. It’s going to be what books are read in English class? What are they teaching in sex education? Parents want to be involved in that process and we should let them have those conversations."

Denise Specht, the president of the Education Minnesota, issued a statement, which read in part:

"Every educator I know welcomes conversations with parents about the lessons being taught in school, but GOP senators today presented a plan to drop a crushing amount of extra paperwork on already exhausted teachers without a plan for how it would work, how parents would use the information, or even if it was necessary. When mandating more work for every teacher in the state, the details matter."

During a hearing on the bills in the Senate Education Committee late Monday, Betsy Armstrong, a former school board member from Becker, Minnesota, said that some parents are very concerned about how race and gender are being taught in schools.

"It kind of gets into critical race theory, and what people are most concerned about with critical race is that we're going to become more divisive, more so than we are now," Armstrong told the committee.

"You hear the euphemisms of 'equity' and 'social justice' and 'diversity' and 'inclusion' and 'socially responsive teaching' and that's happening right now, if you take a look at the curriculum, especially down near the Cities you're going to see those words."

Senator Mary Kunesh, a New Brighton Democrat, defended the idea of teaching children about the history of racial disparities and discrimination.

"As someone who taught for 25 years in very diverse communities, those are not words to be afraid of, theories to be afraid of. 'Equity' means reaching those children."

Senator Kunesh and other DFL Senators on the panel who have worked as teachers or served on school boards said educators go out of their ways already to keep parents informed, through emails, online portals and printed materials sent home with their students.

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