by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
April 6, 2023
TOPEKA — Parents who don’t believe their children should be taught about slavery could potentially ignore history, one lawmaker argued in opposition to a wide-ranging parental rights bill.
The legislation, which passed the House 76-46, would allow parents to withdraw their children from courses they find objectionable under the assumption that teachers are crossing the line into advocating for radical ideas.
Rep. Ford Carr, a Wichita Democrat, said the bill may allow parents to promote the idea that slaves were “simply immigrants from another country.” Carr said lawmakers who valued Black history should oppose the bill.
“Anyone within this body, certainly if they are of African American heritage, be they on either side of the aisle, based on previous statements that were made, I would certainly hope that I would see them vote in opposition to this,” Carr said. “Statements have already been made with references to the fact of how Black culture and heritage is certainly important in this body.”
Carr appeared to be referencing Rep. Patrick Penn’s Wednesday statement that enacting a transgender student athlete would help “end racism.”
Rep. Susan Estes, a Wichita Republican and the carrier of the bill, said in an interview after the debate that Carr’s scenario was an “extreme hypothetical” and the bill was meant to address other educational issues. Estes used testimony written by a parent whose child was asked what name and pronouns they preferred as an example of situations the bill was meant to address.
“That type of question gets into an extreme ‘what-if,’ ” Estes said. “We’re talking about normal basic things, and slavery rightly is addressed in our curriculums.”
During the Thursday bill discussion, lawmakers also mentioned the Wednesday House debate, during which one Democratic lawmaker stood up and displayed a “Protect Trans Youth” T-shirt. Another Democrat cursed at Republicans who she said laughed after a transgender student athlete ban was passed.
Several Republicans broke party lines to vote against the bill, including Reps. Mark Schreiber of Emporia, Bill Clifford of Garden City and David Younger of Ulysses. Democratic Rep. Marvin Robinson, of Kansas City, voted with Republicans to support the bill.
Clifford said he wasn’t sure what problem the legislation was trying to solve, and he said people unhappy with their school board policies could vote out school board members they had issues with.
“If you don’t like the policies of your school board, throw them out,” Clifford said.
Under the bill, parents could object to any educational materials or activities that they believe hurt the student or parents’ beliefs, values or principles. Their child could be withdrawn from the class or education program without harm to the student’s academic records. Students would have to complete comparable alternative assignments to make up the work.
Educational materials would include curriculum, reading materials, videos and textbooks. Local school boards would be required to adopt policies and procedures in accordance with the law.
The bill is similar to legislation considered last session, a parental bill of rights for K-12 public education that encouraged skepticism of classroom instructional materials and challenges to books in school libraries. It was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly.
When a fellow lawmaker asked if the legislation would allow for the removal of library books from the shelves during House discussion, Estes refused to answer.
“We went through all of this the first time I carried the bill, so I’m going to decline to participate,” Estes said.
She also declined to stand for Wichita Democrat Rep. John Carmichael’s question. Carmichael said the Legislature couldn’t function well without lawmakers participating in discussion.
“It is impossible for an assembly like this to properly do its job when the carriers of bills refuse to participate in the debate,” Carmichael said. “That tells you something about the quality of the legislation.”
In an interview after the debate, Estes said she didn’t answer because she felt some of the questions posed by fellow lawmakers weren’t relevant to the discussion.
“When the questions started to go off into something that was completely, clearly not in the bill, I decided not to participate in misinformation,” Estes said.
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