Kansas Senate passes ‘Parents Bill of Rights’

(The Sentinel) –  The “Parents Bill of Rights” and school curriculum transparency legislation passed the Kansas Senate Tuesday 24-15.

However the bill – SB496 – fell short of the supermajority needed to be veto-proof, and Governor Laura Kelly has not said whether she will pass it, but indicted opposition when speaking to reporters.

“We have a shortage of teachers in the state of Kansas,” Kelly said, according to the Kansas City Star. “We should not be doing anything that further demoralizes our teachers and drives them out of the profession.

“This is the worst thing we can possibly be doing.”

Opponents of the bill – which provides several guarantees for parents, including the right to know exactly what their children are being taught – have likewise slammed it as “bullying” and suggested it would prevent the teaching of history.

The bill has also been opposed by the teacher unions and school administrations.

“I absolutely believe that parents should have a significant impact in their children’s education. But this bill is not a parent’s Bill of Rights,” Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, (D-Lenexa) said. “This bill is a bully’s bill of demands. And this is attacking our teachers who are already demoralized.”

It’s not clear why Sykes and other opponents believe posting curriculum and other materials online is considered bullying.  But many parents are concerned about the material being used in classrooms.

A SurveyUSA poll conducted on behalf of Kansas Policy Institute, which owns The Sentinel, shows 57% of parents and grandparents are concerned that students may be learning things that they find objectionable.  And there is a long list of such content in Kansas.

The Parents Bill of Rights also requires parents have an opportunity to be involved in school board meetings.

Senate Education Chair Molly Baumgardner, (R-Louisberg), cited recent incidents in Salina, in which parents upset about some of the books being made available to students in the school library were ejected from a board meeting.

“Parents were concerned about materials that were made available in the libraries. So they took those books with them,” she said, adding the parents during public discussion began to read from the books in question. “They were stopped. Because of the profanity, the vulgarity, and quite frankly, the inappropriate content to be read aloud by adults in an adult setting. It was considered that pornographic.

“And so how did the Salina school board address that issue? They decided that parents can’t speak up at the public school board meetings anymore.”

Spurious amendment rejected

Sen. Cindy Holscher, (D-Overland Park), suggested supporters of the bill were clueless about what is actually going on in schools and introduced an amendment that she said would take care of it.

Holscher noted that in her district — one of the wealthiest in Kansas — parents are inundated with information about what is going on in the school. Holscher, however, elided the fact that other districts may not function the same way.

“This amendment basically specifies that prior to bringing forward a bill that impacts curriculum or funding for public schools, that a legislator would volunteer for a week in a public school, or consult with a team of at least six teaching professionals designated by the State Board of Education,” she said. “This is to ensure that we actually know what’s going on in our public schools because we seem to have a plethora of bills this session … that seem to have a disconnect between what is the reality of what’s happening in our public schools and the perception.”

Many parents would say reality is quite the opposite; parents are learning what has been happening in schools and they are not happy.

The amendment was deemed “not germane,” and was not voted on.

What the bill actually says

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Renee Erickson, (R-Wichita), — herself a former educator — noted the disconnect seemed to be between what opponents said the bill does and what it actually does.

“During this discussion … I’ve heard the following from the opponents: [the bill] undermines the critical thinking of our children. It eliminates conversations between parents and their children. It undermines the relationship between parents and their children,” Erickson said. “It hurts teachers, that this bill is not in the best interest of students and families, that it creates an adversarial relationship between parents and teachers.”

None of that, however, was accurate, according to Erickson.

“The bill states that all parents have a right to direct the upbringing, education, care, and mental health of their child,” she said. “The bill would enumerate 12 rights reserved by the state for parents with regards to their child. Such enumerated rights would include but not be limited to the right to direct the education and care of the parent’s child and the right to direct the upbringing and moral or religious training of the parents’ child.”

Erickson said — as a former educator — she would welcome a bill that would increase parental engagement with the schools.

“I spent over 20 years in public education, and I can’t tell you the number of times — or the amount of time — we spent as a staff trying to figure out how to get parents engaged in their children’s education because we know that that’s critical to the success of that student.

“The good teachers in my school would welcome the opportunity to provide any material, any survey, in the questionnaire, any resource, any book that’s been read in that classroom, they would welcome the opportunity to provide that to any parent who made that request.”