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Missouri House passes 'Parents’ Bill of Rights' allowing lawsuits against school districts

  Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, speaks on the House floor on April 1, 2021.
Tim Bommel
House Communications
Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, speaks on the House floor on April 1, 2021.

The GOP-backed bill outlines rights for parents to review instruction material, visit schools during class hours and have “sufficient accountability and transparency regarding school boards.” Schools that are found noncompliant could face civil lawsuits and have state funding withheld.

Missouri schools that receive public funding could be subject to civil suits and a withholding of state funds if they fail to meet transparency standards in a bill passed by the House on Tuesday.

The House bill outlines rights for parents whose children attend schools that receive public funding, including the ability to review instruction material, visit the school during school hours and have “sufficient accountability and transparency regarding school boards.”

School districts that violate these provisions could face civil suits, including those brought by parents. Furthermore, school districts found to be noncompliant could see state funding withheld from them until action is taken to address the violations.

Members voted 85-59 to advance the Parents' Bill of Rights to the Senate, with only four weeks remaining in the legislative session and changes to the language of the bill expected.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, sponsor of the legislation, said the bill recognizes that parents are the “ultimate authority” when it comes to their child’s education.

“This is about those who have concerns about the content of the classroom and classroom materials, what is being put in front of their child in the classroom,” Baker said.

The bill also makes changes to Missouri school boards, including requiring them by the 2023-24 school year to establish a public comment period during their meetings, with a time limit of no less than three minutes per speaker.

Multiple House Democrats spoke against the legislation on the floor, including Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, a former teacher, school board member and principal.

“This is a path that sets up an adversarial relationship between the parents and the school, and it creates a threat,” Burnett said.

Democrats spoke on the complications of enforcing the legislation and said some of the rights listed in the bill are either already granted to parents or are addressing situations that are not happening in the state.

Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, said the bill is a step in addressing the lack of trust between parents and schools.

“We are telling parents: We acknowledge you, we trust you, we respect you, and we will work to regain your trust and respect,” Richey said.

Changes are expected as the bill moves through the Senate. One House member who spoke against some of the wording was Republican Rep. Mike Stephens, R-Bolivar, who said he supported what the bill was trying to do, but not in this form.

“We should have done a better job of finding words that open the door for more parent participation, where they know what's going on at school, and they have a voice that is heard and recognized and has weight,” Stephens said. “But this language can wreak havoc in the classroom.”

Baker said they will make changes to the bill to “make sure we get this across the finish line.”

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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