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Column: Holly Thompson Rehder: Protecting Children and Empowering Parents (02/18/23)

It’s nearly 400 miles from Sikeston to Kansas City. That’s about the same distance a resident of southeastern Missouri would have to walk to get to Atlanta, Chicago, or Des Moines. Despite this great distance, I think we all felt a sense of pride in our city watching the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl this past weekend. You could certainly feel the excitement this week at the State Capitol, as nearly every conversation has started with, “How about those bosses!” The match had so much impact that the Senate adjourned a day early so lawmakers could attend the victory parade. Congratulations to Kansas City and the Chiefs.

Despite the short week, we still managed to get a lot of work done. A highlight for me was the opportunity to present Senate Bill 40 to the Committee on Education and Workforce Development. I’ve been trying to get this bill through for a couple of years now, but I think there’s a good chance it will cross the line this session. Senate Bill 40 would require background checks for adult students who take career and technical classes alongside traditional high school students. Many of the professional development courses taught in Missouri public schools are open to adults. Is fantastic. I support efforts to develop Missouri’s workforce, but there’s a concern when you have a 30-year-old man sitting next to a 16-year-old girl in a classroom.

We need background checks for volunteers at our schools — even the lunch lady needs to have a background check — so it makes sense that adult students are held to the same standard. My bill would not prevent a person convicted of a felony from seeking further vocational training, but the school could make sure to enroll these students only in an evening class or some other setting where they are not placed in the same class as children.

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In other legislative activity this week, the Senate passed a “Parental Rights Bill.” Part of Senate Bill 4, the legislation will give parents a better view of what their children are learning. One of the most important parts of this bill, in my opinion, is the requirement for schools to post listings of textbooks, source materials, and other school curriculum information online on a “transparency portal.” This legislation will empower parents, give them the means to evaluate their children’s education and make changes when they see problems.

Another part of SB 4 prohibits the teaching of divisive racial concepts. I believe it is of paramount importance for children to learn history, but we need to stick with what happened and not try to place the blame on our children. Students are not responsible for the horrible deeds that happened all those years ago and shouldn’t feel responsible for things they had nothing to do with. This legislation will help ensure that this does not happen.

In that sense, this week I had the opportunity to share some history with my colleagues. In February, Senators take turns commemorating the contributions of notable Black Americans in honor of Black History Month. For my presentation, I spoke to Bishop TD Jakes, the founder of The Potter’s House Church in Dallas. One of the most influential spiritual voices in America, Bishop Jakes has been personally significant to me. I often listen to his sermons online when I am faced with a dead end. I was particularly moved by his book, “Woman, Thou Art Loosed,” and the message of empowerment he has inspired for decades. I highly recommend Bishop Jakes’ teachings and was proud to share his story as my contribution to Black History Month in the Missouri Senate.

Holly Thompson Rehder (R-Scott City) represents District 129 in the Missouri Senate.

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