Minnesota Senate takes up GOP ‘Parents Bill of Rights’

Published 5:59 pm Friday, March 4, 2022

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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate held its first votes Thursday on a package of Republican-backed education bills promoted as a “Parents Bill of Rights,” most of which likely won’t become law this session but will tee up some hot-button social issues for the election campaign.

Senate GOP leaders decided to defer the debate over one of the most contentious bills — one that could affect LGBTQ youth — until an unspecified future date, citing a scheduling crunch. But opponents of that bill went forward with a news conference anyway, saying that whenever these proposals come up across the country, bullying and harassment of LGBTQ youth increases.

The package is patterned on curriculum transparency legislation under consideration at statehouses across the country. The bills come as school boards around the country increasingly becoming cauldrons of anger, boiling with disputes over such issues as COVID-19 mask rules, the treatment of transgender students and how to teach the history of racism and slavery in America.

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Two bills on Thursday’s agenda were authored by gubernatorial candidates who hope to win the GOP endorsement to challenge Democratic incumbent Gov. Tim Walz.

A bill by Sen. Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, which passed 37-30, would require school districts to have procedures for allowing parents to review all instructional materials “without cost and immediately on request,” and adding a notice requirement to a law that already requires schools to make “reasonable arrangements” for alternative instruction when families object.

Gazelka said he’s heard complaints from hundreds of parents as he’s traveled the state that there’s a lack of transparency from their schools and that they don’t feel their voices are being heard.

“We better start listening,” Gazelka said.

But several Democratic senators said the bill was unnecessary and could fuel a surge in burdensome and expensive data requests, which some districts are already experiencing. The said the priority should instead be more resources for schools, given the state’s $9.25 billion budget surplus.

“This ‘solution’ is a non-solution to a non-problem,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen, of Edina.

Another bill authored by a gubernatorial candidate, Sen. Michelle Benson, of Ham Lake, would require teachers to make class syllabi available electronically within the first two weeks of the term to students and parents. However the debate on Gazelka’s bill ran out the clock, so the earliest that Benson’s bill could come up would be Monday.

Senate leaders had already postponed a bill by Sen. Justin Eichorn, of Grand Rapids, that would declare a “fundamental right” of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children, and say that schools can’t withhold from parents “information relating to the minor child’s health, well-being, and education.”

That bill doesn’t specifically mention LGBTQ students, but opponents told reporters before the floor session that it could force teachers to out students to their parents, exclude transgender students from sports and remove consequences for bullying and harassment.

“While on its face this bill might seem benign, it’s actually part of a country-wide push to force LGBTQ youth further into the margins under the guise of promoting the parents’ rights,” said Erin Maye Quade, advocacy director for Gender Justice.

However, one part of the package sailed through on a 67-0 vote. The bill by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, of Lino Lakes, would prohibit school districts from requiring people testifying at board meetings to publicly disclose their full addresses. It’s aimed at protecting testifiers from harassment.

Most provisions in the Senate GOP package aren’t likely to get very far in the Democratic-controlled House. But Maye Quade said opponents feel the need to fight them in the Senate anyway in case they surface as floor amendments in the House.

“Having these conversations in public, with adults at the seat of power in Minnesota, is harmful to children, and it absolutely has to stop,” Maye Quade said.