Parental Rights Lead K-12 Curriculum Reform

By FOCUS, a Leonine Business –

In 2022, we saw the beginning of what will likely become an influx of bills aimed at increasing regulation of K-12 curriculum in 2023. The debate over “critical race theory” has been a common conversation in the education space over the last few years and has resulted in several states continuing to introduce bills to ban or restrict it in K-12 public schools or schools receiving public funding. More recently, the conversation has begun to push beyond critical race theory instruction to involve concerned parent’s groups seeking removal of books in public school and community libraries over concerns of obscene or inappropriate content. In March, Florida passed HB 1557, commonly called the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which includes the banning of LGBTQ language from grades K-3, reasoning that it’s “inappropriate” for certain ages. According to CBS News, boosted by an overwhelming re-election victory in November, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed his commitment to going further, stating that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

Increasingly concerned about what was being taught to their children, in 2020 parents began attending school board meetings in large numbers to push bans on the teaching of “critical race theory” along with standards such as masking and remote learning. Emboldened by several legislative victories on this front, a number of groups have organized around the call to limit “inappropriate” public school sexual health education, as well as the removal of books argued to contain obscene materials. According to Education Week, “the number of books challenged in and banned by school districts has escalated sharply since 2021”. Organizations like Moms for Liberty have been very active in this space, asking for further regulation at events like School Board Meetings, according to The New Yorker. This increased interest in banning certain materials in public schools and libraries will likely bring about an increase in legislation seeking to enact such bans.

In addition to restrictions on what are deemed harmful materials, Missouri SB 775, which passed in August and is expected to be expanded next session, allows for the charging of librarians with misdemeanors over noncompliance. Similarly, the Missouri secretary of state has begun issuing proposed rules limiting the content of public libraries as well as creating procedures for challenging a library’s age-appropriate designations. Additionally, legislation has been prefiled that would limit curricula on sexual orientation and gender identity in the absence of parental consent. Similar bills have been prefiled in Texas, along with those to regulate sex education and requiring instruction that human life begins at conception as well as emphasizing the “dignity and worth” of human life from the moment of conception. With respect to critical race theory, Wyoming’s HB 97 was introduced in 2022 to ban its teaching in schools.

States like Tennessee (with HB 2451/SB 2360) have already prefiled or introduced general parental rights bills, looking to give parents more control over what is taught to their children. Several other states are expected to introduce bills on parental rights, including New Hampshire, where a legislative service request on the subject has been filed. While covering a broad array of particular topics from state to state, these bills all share in the growing desire among many parents to have more control over the scope and content of their children’s education.