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Education

Republicans and Democrats both have proposals for a Parents’ Bill of Rights in schools

Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence
Jason Rosenbaum
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, filed legislation Wednesday that would create a Parents’ Bill of Rights. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt released a proposal the day before.

Political leaders from both parties are calling for a Parents’ Bill of Rights in schools in Missouri.

Earlier this week, Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt released a proposal that would require schools to develop policies around parents’ access to curriculum, information on school choice and information on exempting their children from vaccinations.

“The Parents’ Bill of Rights empowers parents and increases transparency in school curricula and materials,” Schmitt said in a press release.

The proposal is similar to legislation U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced at a national level last month, which would “empower parents to sue federally-funded schools” if their rights laid out in the legislation are violated.

Wednesday was the first day to file bills in the Missouri Legislature, and Missouri Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, filed his own legislation that would create a Parents’ Bill of Rights. He said much of what is in the bill is already available to parents, but he hopes his legislation could help parents be more involved in their child’s education.

“We're trying to have a conversation about what parent involvement looks like in the state of Missouri for the future and we want parents involved,” Rizzo said. “I hope that we can have a great discussion about parents being involved in their children's education … and we can move past the screaming and yelling and condemnation at school board meetings.”

Rizzo’s legislation is similar to Schmitt’s in that it requires schools to develop policies around curriculum transparency, but it diverges from the attorney general’s proposal on other issues. For instance, Rizzo’s proposal requires schools to provide information on penalties for misusing funds through the Missouri’s Empowerment Scholarships program and gives parents a right to receive information on “the individual health benefits of childhood immunizations.”

The plans are also different in how they are enforced. Schmitt’s plan would be enforced by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, while Rizzo’s would be enforced by local prosecutors.

“With the attorney general suing as many people as he's suing right now, he doesn't need any more on his plate,” Rizzo said. “So we wanted to take that off his plate and make sure that if, in fact, some of these things were not done properly, that the local prosecutor would have the say in that.”

Some educators have concerns that these proposals are redundant and could take away power from local communities.

Information about school curriculum and extracurricular activities are generally available on school websites, according to Mark Jones, communications director for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association.

“We already have very good transparency laws in the state of Missouri, and much of this information is publicly available already,” Jones said. “Our concern is simply that we preserve the local control input by parents and ensure that educators have a seat at the table.”

Jones is worried the Republican proposal will give the state more power to take control of local school district decisions.

“I think the last thing any of us wants is to have a top-down cookie-cutter approach mandated by the state,” he added.

The Missouri legislative session starts in January.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @Kate Grumke

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