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Governor Wants ‘Parents Bill of Rights,’ But Public Ed Org Calls It ‘Anti-Teacher’

Gov. Tate Reeves gives his State of the State Address on the steps of the capitol
In his State of the State address on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves called on lawmakers to pass a “Parents Bill of Rights” that would allow parents to inspect school curriculums and opt their children out of certain educational materials. Photo by Kayode Crown

JACKSON, Miss.—Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves told lawmakers Monday that he wants them to pass a “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which would allow parents to inspect school curriculums and opt their children out of certain educational materials. It would also prohibit schools from using transgender students’ requested pronouns.

“This Parents’ Bill of Rights would further cement that when it comes to the usage of names, pronouns or health matters, schools will adhere to the will of parents,” the governor said on the Capitol steps Monday. “There is no room in our schools for policies that attempt to undercut parents and require the usage of pronouns or names that fail to correspond with reality.”

Conservative lawmakers around the country have introduced “Parents Bill of Rights” legislation over the past year as Republican lawmakers nationwide have focused on restricting what educators can teach in classrooms.

Mississippi lawmakers have introduced multiple “Parents Bill of Rights” bills this month, though none may make it out of committee by today’s 8 p.m. deadline. Mississippi House Rep. Fred Shanks, R-Brandon, is sponsoring the “Parent’s Bill of Rights Act of 2023.” Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, sponsored a similar “Parents’ Bill of Rights.

‘I Am Daddy’

On Monday morning, McDaniel touted his “Parents Bill of Rights” as he announced a run for lieutenant governor during a press conference at the Mississippi Republican Party headquarters in Jackson.

“We must choose to place parents in control of their children’s lives,” he said at the event. “I am not a co-parent with the government; I am daddy. These kids are my responsibility and (his wife) Jill’s responsibility, not the government’s responsibility. That includes vaccines, that includes personal decision-making processes. That also includes what they are taught in school because I have a right to control that curriculum just as much as anyone else does.”

Senator Chris McDaniel announces his run for Lt. Gov.
“I am not a co-parent with the government; I am daddy,” Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel said at a press conference announcing his run for lieutenant governor at the Mississippi Republican Party headquarters in Jackson on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Photo by Kayode Crown

Leadership referred McDaniel’s bill to the Senate Education Committee, but the committee’s chairman, Mississippi Sen. Dennis DeBar Jr., R-Leakesville, told the Mississippi Free Press Tuesday that he is not taking up the bill.

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn is sponsoring House Bill 1489, titled the “Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023,” with similar provisions to those contained in the “Parents Bill of Rights.”

Gunn’s bill would require the school principal or superintendent to provide information regarding a child to the parents “within ten days of receiving the request” or to “submit to the parents a written explanation of the reasons for the denial of the requested information.”

Gunn’s version would give parents “the authority to opt their children out of any instruction of the school district’s comprehensive health education relating to sex education upon submitting a written request to the school principal.”

“It is the intent of the Legislature that every effort be made to protect the instructional time in the classroom and reduce the amount of paperwork which must be completed by teachers,” the bill’s text says.

‘Red Alert’ on ‘Anti-Teacher’ Bill

The Parents’ Campaign, a public-school lobbying and advocacy organization in Mississippi, issued a “Red Alert” to its supporters by email and on its website Monday, calling Gunn’s bill an “anti-teacher, anti-public school bill” that “endangers vulnerable children.”

“The bill would require crushing amounts of paperwork for educators, subject public school teachers to lawsuits, and further endanger the thousands of vulnerable children who are safer at school than they are at home,” the organization said. Public school advocates also warn that the legislation could worsen Mississippi’s years-long teacher shortage.

a picture of Speaker Philip Gunn standing in front of a group of men in suits and ties
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn is sponsoring House Bill 1489, to enact the “Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023.” Photo by Ashton Pittman

The bill will die on calendar unless it advances out of committee by 8 p.m. today, but House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Nick Bain, R-Corinth, did not schedule it for a vote today.

“Quite frankly, I think the bill was problematic, and it had some issues,” he told the Mississippi Free Press this morning. “I wanted it to be known that the Mississippi Legislature and the House of Representatives fully want parents to have the right to know what’s going on in schools. At the same time, we want to make sure that the school districts aren’t overburdened and have cumbersome policies in place to make it a potentially unworkable situation for both the schools and the parents.”

“In an abundance of caution and after talking with members of the committee and with others in this building, we felt the best thing to do was to not bring the bill up,” he added. “The last thing I want to do is do anything publicly that might send a message that the Mississippi House of Representatives, specifically Speaker Gunn, is trying to do something to harm our teachers or anything like that.”

Last year, the Mississippi Legislature passed and Gov. Reeves signed a bill that Republican leaders misleadingly characterized as a ban on teaching “critical race theory.” While the bill’s text did not explicitly ban the college-level discipline, which emphasizes the role of systemic racism in social inequities, public-school advocates warned that it risks chilling classroom speech.

Though Gunn’s bill, and any that do not advance out of their respective committees, are set to die on calendar after today’s 8 p.m. deadline, lawmakers could later revive it using various legislative mechanisms, such as amending another bill.

Earlier this month, the Mississippi House passed a bill that would ban treatments for transgender minors, such as puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy. The Senate would still need to pass it, and Gov. Reeves would need to sign it for it to become law.

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