Senators introduce parental ‘bill of rights’ proposal to ensure parental control over education

Critics call it a ‘solution in search of a problem’ and say parents already have rights and a voice

By: - January 12, 2023 5:53 pm

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — As promised, State Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil has introduced a bill that he says would ensure that parents have control over the teaching of their children and that inappropriate books or instruction are not offered.

On Thursday, he and nine cosponsors introduced Legislative Bill 374, the “Parents’ Bill of Rights and Academic Transparency Act,” after stating last week in a floor speech that parents needed to be the “ultimate decision makers” for their children.

“This bill is to guarantee that they know what’s in the curriculum, in the library and what’s being taught, so they can control what’s being taught,” Murman said Thursday.

When asked, he could not cite specific examples of how parents had been denied information about what public schools are teaching. The senator did say that he’s seen school books in Nebraska that he considered not “age appropriate,” though he could not cite the books.

Dave Murman
State Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil (Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

‘Solution in search of a problem’

Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood called the bill a “solution in search of a problem.”

Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, a former fourth grade teacher, agreed, saying that she was frequently asked by parents about her lesson plans and she always answered their questions.

Lynne Walz
State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Walz said any problems can be directed, and dealt with, by a local school board.

Part of ‘culture wars’

The bill of rights proposal is patterned after similar bills in Florida, Kansas and Missouri and comes after conservative U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced a similar measure last year in the Senate.

Eighty-four similar bills, mostly introduced by Republican state lawmakers, were filed in 26 states last year, according to a Georgetown University think tank called FutureEd.

One was in Nebraska, LB 1158, from Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders. The proposal was amended and advanced from the Education Committee,but failed to advance in the 2022 session. Sanders has introduced LB 71 this year, which appears more narrowly focused than Murman’s “bill of rights” proposal.

Murman, who was elected chairman of the Education Committee last week, now has additional power in scheduling and advancing legislation, boosting the chances that LB 374 could advance.

Some parents fearful

Murman’s bill and other bill of rights proposals have been inspired by fears from some parents that their children are being taught about sex when it’s not “age appropriate,” that critical race theory is part of instruction in K-12 schools and that inappropriate books are being stocked in school libraries.

Jenni Benson, the president of the state teachers union, said the Nebraska State Education Association has always supported parents and teachers working together to educate children.

Some conservative groups and parents disagree, however, and have made school board meeting a battleground for the nation’s culture wars in recent months.

‘Relentless attacks’ don’t help

Benson said that “relentless attacks by some elected officials” have exacerbated the shortage of teachers in the state, despite the widespread support for public education.

“I believe it is critically important that we work together to address concerns through communication versus accusations,” she said.

Murman said LB 374 sets up a “clear avenue” for parents to review educational materials and, if necessary, lodge objections to certain library books or learning materials. It also provides for an appeal process.

Transparency portal required

Under the bill, a school district must develop a policy on parental rights by July  2024 and create a “parent transparency portal” on its website listing all library items, as well as “learning materials, activities, and curriculum used for student instruction” and “social and emotional learning materials.”

Parents, under the bill, can request that a school determine whether books or materials should be marked “parental review recommended” if they contain inappropriate sexual content or excessive violence or profanity.

LB 374 also states that parents have a right to expect that their children will not be taught that they “bear collective guilt” or are “inherently responsible” for actions committed in the past, an apparent reference to the teaching of critical race theory.

Critical race theory, according to Education Week, is an academic concept that “racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

Murman said, “If it’s not happening now, we shouldn’t be responsible, no matter what is the color of your skin is.”

He said he doesn’t look at the bill as “handcuffing” teachers for pursuing certain subjects, but “liberating” them from pressure to “teach a certain way.”

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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