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Missouri Senate gives initial approval to Parents' Bill of Rights legislation

A photo of the Missouri Capitol.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Senate give first-round approval to legislation that would bar the teaching of certain diversity-related topics and establish a Parents' Bill of Rights.

The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval on Wednesday to legislation that bars the teaching of certain diversity-related concepts and requires schools to make available teaching materials such as sourcing and curriculum.

Senators gave preliminary approval on a voice vote, but the measure must go through an additional vote before moving on to the Missouri House.

The legislation underwent several changes since it was first heard on the floor last week. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said he tried to listen to all parties in amending the legislation.

“I'm not saying everybody's happy with it, and probably some people are unhappy with what's in it. But I think we're at a point where I think we can agree to move on,” Koenig said.

One of those changes is the removal of the phrase "Critical Race Theory" from the bill. While the initial bill did not define Critical Race Theory, it did prohibit the teaching of it.

Now, as with the original bill, these concepts would still be prohibited from being taught:

  • That individuals of any race, ethnicity, color or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.
  • That individuals should be adversely or advantageously treated on the basis of individual race, ethnicity, color or national origin.
  • That individuals, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, color or national origin, bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others.

The legislation does say this section of the bill should not “be construed as prohibiting” curriculum that teaches the topics of “sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, affirmative action, or racial discrimination, including topics related to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in religious and ethnic discrimination, sexism, racial oppression, segregation, and discrimination.”

Despite that language, Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, is concerned the bill would prohibit the contextualization of history and hinder teachers’ ability to freely educate students.

“Even if you go to the part where you're saying that you're not preventing the teaching of topics on slavery and racial oppression, you still are opening this door for parents to say, ‘I don't like this,’” May said.

Koenig reiterated that the language should not bar the teaching of history in schools.

“It's actually perfectly fine if there's specific policies that may be deemed racist, perfectly fine to teach about that, even in the present,” Koenig said. “What we're not saying is, little Johnny in the classroom is somehow inherently racist or responsible for actions from someone else, even if it is in the present.”

Additionally, the legislation establishes a Parents' Bill of Rights, which requires schools to allow parents, within two business days upon request, to review or make a copy of curriculum documents or receive them electronically.

It also would require the establishment of an accountability portal, which would provide citizens with access to every school’s curriculum, textbooks, source materials and syllabi.

Though Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said more people are comfortable with the bill now that it's been changed, she worries it will unnecessarily burden teachers.

“I'm fearful that it will place additional administrative burdens on those teachers or require them to do things above and beyond just their daily responsibilities of educating kids,” Arthur said.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.