Lawmakers in Nebraska spent Monday listening to public testimony on a bill that would formalize parents’ rights in education.
“Every parent of a child in this state shall have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, care, and mental health of the parent’s child,” reads LB374, the Parents’ Bill of Rights and Academic Transparency Act.
An overflowing crowd of citizens on both sides of the issue testified on the bill, which establishes the parents’ right to withdraw their child from lessons that violate their “values, principles and beliefs.”
The hearing was held by the Education Committee, chaired by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dave Murman, R-District 38. More than 400 written comments were also entered into the record.
The sudden interest in such legislation follows controversies in recent years, especially related to COVID-19 policies and curricula.
Early in the pandemic the Nebraska State Education Association joined national teachers’ unions in pushing back against parent involvement in curricula decision making, citing a lack of training and expertise.
The position was seen as condescending and imperious, sparking candidacies for the state Board of Education from several grassroots campaigners. Of the four open seats, grassroots candidates won three.
Yet parents’ rights in education remained murky.
“Above all else, this bill aims to make clear that every parent is the foremost decision-maker in every child’s life,” Murman says.
Under the legislation, schools would be required to develop and adopt a parents’ rights policy by July 1, 2024. The bill clearly states these policies must be specific and comprehensive, even listing numerous areas of concern, such as curricula and testing results. The bill also recognizes the right of a parent, student, or teacher to sue the school if they believe it has violated the bill’s provisions.
The legislation restricts “data mining” – gathering information on students and their families through surveys – some of which require students to state their sexual orientation or gender identity. This personal information is sometimes used by schools to apply for federal and private funding, including from programs critics say are driven by radical ideologies.
The bill would also prohibit instruction that is racist or promotes the principles of Critical Race Theory (CRT), such as the idea that people of one race “bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race.”
Another provision in the bill allows parents to opt their children out of mandated vaccinations. The language is clearly intended to stop schools from forcing children to receive the experimental COVID mRNA vaccine. However, many observers believe the vaccination portion of the bill will be winnowed down to just deal with COVID vaccines.
The Nebraska State Education Association, the Nebraska Association of School Boards, the Greater Nebraska Schools Association and the public-school districts of Omaha and Lincoln, the state’s two largest districts, all testified in opposition to the bill.
The measure has several more rounds of hearings and debate ahead.