Missouri House hearing on ‘parents bill of rights’ centers on diversity education

By: - April 12, 2023 11:50 am

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, presents his Senate bill in a House elementary and secondary education committee hearing Wednesday morning (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

A prohibition on diversity curriculum in public schools was the focus of debate Wednesday in a Missouri House committee, as lawmakers heard testimony on the Senate version of “parents bill of rights” legislation.

Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Manchester Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation doesn’t explicitly ban “critical race theory” but instead describes concepts that would be banned. One such idea is “that individuals of any race, ethnicity, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.”

Koenig testified Wednesday that his son’s friend was separated by race and taught about racial oppression in class. This is the type of lesson he is trying to stop, he said.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, flips through Senate Bill 4 as she asks questions during a House committee meeting Wednesday morning (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said “as an educator of 13 years” she had never seen children separated by race.

“There are a lot of unintended consequences to legislation we pass, and my fear is that we would tie the hands of educators who are just doing their best to educate our students and that this would simply stifle their autonomy to practice their craft,” she said.

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, said she also had never seen schools tell children they are oppressors.

Koenig said he has documents from classrooms, like an oppression matrix. The matrix of oppression is a teaching tool often used in diversity, equity and inclusion training to show what social groups are most likely to benefit in society.

“We don’t want to tell that kid in the classroom that they are oppressors for something that happened in the past,” Koenig said.

Terry pushed back: “Well I guess I’m going to have to go visit those schools and see for myself because I never… I just find this totally absurd.”

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, said he was given the matrix of oppression in a professional development session as a teacher in Moberly schools.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, asks if he can add an amendment to a Senate bill Wednesday (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

“So if it is happening in Moberly,” Koenig said. “You know it is happening in more egregious ways in other areas.”

Terry asked Koenig if his bill would prohibit teaching history, including civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Koenig said the bill has a section that specifies that history, including African American and Native American history, is allowed in schools.

“We want history taught in its fullest. If its history is not taught in its fullest, we’ll repeat it. So that’s not what we’re talking about,” he said.

Some who came to testify in opposition to the bill were worried that it would make teachers fearful of teaching the history of racism and other forms of discrimination.

Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri branch of the National Education Association, said language specifying that “no course of instruction, unit of study, or professional development or training program shall contain any idea, concept, position, or viewpoint in violation” was too restrictive.

“It is very difficult for there to be a clear understanding of what that means,” he said. “When there’s not a clear understanding of what that means, it really adds to the many things that have already caused teachers to be very afraid of honest and frank dialogue in the classroom.”

Dava-Leigh Brush, a former educator and member of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership, said it would be difficult to know what content crosses the line.

The committee did not take any action on the bill Wednesday but discussed possible amendments to the legislation, such as adding a bill of rights for teachers proposed by Lewis.

Another proposed edit is removing a provision that bans video-sharing websites from student devices. Fajen said that language is problematic for teachers who use educational videos to teach students.

Any changes to the bill would send the legislation to the Senate again. It faced a filibuster to pass the Senate floor initially, eventually passing with a compromise.


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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.