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Republicans press for Minnesota teaching materials to be made public in 'Parents Bill of Rights'

Senate GOP lawmakers on Monday rolled out their proposed 'Parents Bill of Rights,' which included provisions requiring schools to post curricula and offering alternative lesson plans if parents object to certain books or topics being taught.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain - Parents bill of rights
Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, speaks with reporters at the Minnesota Capitol about a slate of bills Republicans put forward to ensure parents were up to date on what students are taught in Minnesota public schools.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Senate Republicans on Monday, Feb. 14, pushed forward a set of bills aimed at making public school learning materials more open to parents, a plan they deemed the "Minnesota Parents Bill of Rights."

The senators carrying the bills said they were needed to ensure more transparency in public schools and to keep parents in the loop about what their children are learning. They said they'd received a handful of complaints from around Minnesota about syllabi not being shared with parents or about parents not being offered an option to set their children up for alternative learning plans.

Republican lawmakers around the country have put forward similar measures ahead of the midterm elections in the fall, the Associated Press reported . And in Minnesota tense debates in school board meetings over social studies standards and mask requirements in some schools have spurred state lawmakers to act.

Minnesota teachers and school administrators in response to the bills said they were a solution in search of a problem and warned that they could create burdens for stressed educators without providing resources to help them follow the requirements.

The proposals would require teachers to make public their class syllabus and update parents if there were meaningful changes during the course of the academic year. Parents would also be able to request alternative books or lesson plans if they disagreed with anything set to come before the class. And a separate proposal would make a broad set of school learning materials publicly available. School boards would also be barred for asking attendees to publicly disclose their address or phone number under another bill.

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"These proposals keep parents involved and they keep political activism out of the curriculum and decision-making," Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, said. "We believe it's a fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. We've seen the rights of these parents eroded over time and replaced with heavy-handed bureaucracy."

The Senate Committee on Education Finance and Policy passed the bills on Monday on party-line votes with Republicans supporting them and Democrats voting against them.

Republicans also said they would renew a push to let parents use state dollars to enroll their kids in private or parochial schools. The measure gained traction in the Senate last year but failed to advance in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-led House of Representatives. And Gov. Tim Walz, a former public school teacher, has said he opposed it.

“Parents are in charge. (Teachers) have to recognize them and work with them,” Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said. “They have the right to pull their child from that school and ... we have to support that, we need to fund children and not systems.”

Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers union, on Monday said the plans would create a "crushing amount of extra paperwork" for teachers and they said they opposed the plan to let state dollars go to private and parochial schools.

“Most Minnesotans believe all children should receive an education that gives them the freedom to pursue their dreams as critical thinkers in our increasingly diverse state," Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said. "Unfortunately, certain politicians seem more interested in following the lead of the national big money groups’ plans to inflame division about what’s taught about race and gender than in presenting coherent policies to engage parents in their local schools."

Ahead of the committee hearing on Monday, the Minnesota School Boards Association, Association of Metropolitan School Districts and Minnesota Association of School Administrators in written testimony said they supported efforts to get parents involved in the classroom but hoped lawmakers would avoid "time-consuming and costly new mandates."

The bills are unlikely to find support in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-led House of Representatives, where an education committee chair said the measures were part of a political agenda.

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MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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