For the second consecutive session, lawmakers approved a bill that allows parents to exclude their students from activities or course materials they deem objectionable, although this bill is reduced from the 2022 version.
A similar measure was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly last year, and House Bill 2236 fell short on Thursday of the two-thirds majority that would allow lawmakers to overturn a veto in 2023, though it’s unclear how Kelly feels about the broader language.
The latest effort would allow parents to object to activities, classes, textbooks or assemblies that are not included in a district-approved curriculum or state educational standards. They could also raise an issue if the material “damages the parent’s sincerely held beliefs, values, or principles.”
This is an abridged version of a different bill from last year that would have been more prescriptive. Supporters say its provisions, which include requiring local districts to implement their own policies to support the bill’s goals, are a way to ensure parents are heard by school staff and board members.
Rep. Adam Thomas R-Olathe, chair of the House education committee, said the bill was purposefully narrower, noting that education groups argued that critical race theory and other programs were not in the curriculum formal school.
The Kansas State Department of Education has said that CRT is not included in state standards, although conservatives have criticized other diversity programs in schools.
‘Teach the curriculum, we will teach religious beliefs at home’
“All we are saying is teach the curriculum, we will teach the religious beliefs at home,” Thomas said during a GOP House caucus meeting. “And stick to the curriculum that teaches our kids against indoctrination.”
Kristen Workman, a parent at Lansing Unified School District 469, told lawmakers she objected to an assignment that asked her daughter to reinterpret a Grimm fairy tale from a Marxist lens, part of what she called an “assault” to parental rights.
“I was shocked,” Workman said.
But education groups remained fiercely critical of its provisions, arguing it could allow parents to remove children from core grades without any grade penalty under the bill.
“We feel that bill is overly large. … If I could have taken my children out of eighth grade algebra, at least one of my children would have saved a lot of time and our family a lot of money for therapy” Leah Fliter, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, told lawmakers.
Rep. Linda Featherston, D-Overland Park, said the legislature was ultimately still disrupting teachers’ jobs.
“Districts do a lot of work approving textbooks and curriculum, that’s true,” Featherston said. “But it’s our professional teachers who see all of our children, see their strengths, see their weaknesses, and see how to achieve them.”
But Rep. Rebecca Schmoe, R-Ottawa, said the bill would actually help teachers by keeping them from being labeled as having an agenda.
“There really isn’t a language that addresses what a teacher teaches,” Schmoe said. “This bill is all about letting a parent decide what feels comfortable about their student that they feel at school from trusted adults.”