No more ‘gender unicorns’: Lawmakers debate new parents’ bill of rights legislation

Lawmakers discussed parental authority and distrust of teachers during a Wednesday hearing

By: - February 9, 2023 8:27 am
Rep. Owen Donohue

Rep. Owen Donohue says during a Wednesday House Education Committee hearing he would be embarrassed to be a teacher. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Lawmakers on Wednesday debated a new form of parental rights legislation that would allow parents to withdraw their children from courses they find objectionable, saying some teachers are crossing the line into grooming and advocating radical ideas.

House Bill 2236 was discussed by the House Education Committee. The bill would allow parents to object to any educational materials or activities that they believe would harm the student or parents’ beliefs, values or principles. Educational materials would include reading material, websites, videos and textbooks.

Critics of the legislation say the legislation is overbroad and would hurt education across the state. Parents would be allowed to withdraw their student from the class or education program without harm to the student’s academic records. Local school boards would be required to adopt policies and procedures in accordance with the law.

Last session, a parental bill of rights for K-12 public education encouraged skepticism of classroom instructional materials and challenges to books on the shelf in school libraries. It was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Lansing parent Kirsten Workman said the bill was needed. Workman claimed her daughter, now a senior at Lansing High School, was encouraged to read a fairytale through a Marxist lens and given reading about moral relativism, gender-based identity politics, social acceptance of homosexuality and critical race theory.

Workman said the teacher refused to meet with her to discuss her concerns and later gave her daughter more critical reading, such as pieces dealing with the morals of pornography. Workman said what the teacher was doing would be considered grooming in another context.

“They are using taxpayer-funded resources to indoctrinate our children with communist, far-left political ideals,” Workman said. “And they’re doing it everywhere, right under our noses while no one learns to read, write or understand basic algebra. The union is too powerful, and parents need a fighting chance.”

Kansas State Board of Education members Ann Mah and Deena Horst wrote in opposition to the bill, saying its vague language would create problems.

“This bill allows a parent to object to materials or activities they determine to be harmful,” the testimony read. “What is the definition of harmful? Without a definition, parents could make a claim of harm that a reasonable person would find unlikely.”

Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Shawnee Republican, said teachers should be embarrassed of themselves and that he was encouraged by homeschooling and potential new scholarship options.

Other education bills would funnel money into unregulated, unaccredited private and home schools and incentivize scholarship programs for private schools.

“If you look at history, it’s just an abysmal record,” Donohoe said. “It’s embarrassing to say, I would think, that I’m a teacher, when we’re getting the kind of results, or have been, in this state. We have only a quarter of the students who are qualifying for college in all four categories. And yet we go on with these subjects and discussions and CRT, which are so far outside the realm of what people, what parents, what many parents, what most parents, want their children educated on.”

Rep. Silas Miller, D-Wichita, said the bill could lead to children not being taught essential knowledge and other viewpoints, pointing out that the vague language would allow a lot of leeway for parents to intervene.

“Personally, I think it’s OK to teach kids about history,” Miller said. “I think we should not whitewash or sugarcoat it for the sake of coddling children’s religious beliefs.”

Rep. Adam Thomas, committee chairman and an Olathe Republican, pushed back on the idea that distrust of teachers is a national, not a local, issue. As an example of personal dissatisfaction, Thomas said his daughter was forced to do an assignment about a “gender unicorn.”

“My daughter, being told before she had to leave a classroom, had to fill out and not take home an assignment all about a gender unicorn,” Thomas said.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.