Democrats and teachers unions are working to block bills proposed in at least a dozen states that would require curriculum transparency in schools across the country, arguing that parents’ access to their children’s learning materials online could lead to undue censorship and backlash against educators.
Parents are entitled under federal law to request their children's curriculum for review if they attend a federally funded school, but schools are not required to post the materials online. Lawmakers in at least 12 states have introduced legislation to require schools to post lists of all their teaching materials online, including books, articles and videos.
A Missouri bill sponsored by Republican state Rep. Doug Richey would do just that, but Democrats say curriculum transparency bills would only further embolden parents to censor certain materials and trainings, like those pertaining to critical race theory (CRT) – a framework that involves deconstructing aspects of society to discover systemic racism beneath the surface.
Richey’s bill, dubbed the Parents’ Bill of Rights, would also require schools to allow parents receive notifications whenever a teacher intends to teach a "divisive or controversial topic" that may conflict with a "parent's belief that all persons, regardless of race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or ancestry, should be treated equally."
"Parents have a fundamental right, responsibility and authority when it comes to their children," Richey said to committee members Tuesday, FOX 2 reported.
Democratic state Rep. Paula Brown, a former teacher, said Richey's legislation is "setting people up to just be in court."
"Make no mistake: these bills are an attack on Missouri students," she said in a statement after the committee hearing. "They have the right to learn in classrooms free from censorship."
Democratic Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, another former teacher, said the legislation would be a "Trojan horse to destroy quality education."
"These laws would create a chilling effect on teachers who would be afraid to teach anything remotely related to banned curriculum," Nurrenbern said, Fox 2 reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sparked criticism last month after tweeting that curriculum transparency bills are just "thinly veiled attempts at chilling teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in schools."
Emerson Sykes, staff attorney in the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, reiterated the ACLU's position to Fox News Digital last week, saying the organization is "actively pursuing litigation to block" curriculum transparency bills.
"Government bodies should always strive for transparency, and the ACLU supports any good-faith effort to make public education as transparent as possible to parents and communities," Sykes said. "But some of these so-called ‘curriculum transparency bills’ are thinly veiled attempts at chilling teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in schools. Their sponsors have said as much.
"For example, in Florida, one lawmaker recently introduced legislation that would allow teachers and children to be constantly recorded and surveilled in the classroom for signs of teaching and learning about ‘divisive concepts’ around race and gender," Sykes added.
Asra Nomani, vice president for strategy and investigation at Parents Defending Education, blasted the ACLU's opposition in a statement to Fox News Digital.
"Transparency is key to good governance," she said. "This applies to our schools especially where our youngest minds are being informed and influenced. Teachers unions, activists and the ACLU are on the wrong side of history as they try to block transparency in schools."
"Florida law should provide parents with the right to review the curriculum used in their children’s schools," DeSantis said in his State of the State address last week.
Last year, GOP-controlled legislatures in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania became the first to pass curriculum transparency bills, but both bills were vetoed by Democratic governors, NBC News reported.
Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the classroom transparency act in December, saying it failed to provide the necessary funding needed to implement it. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said in his veto message that the legislation was a "thinly veiled attempt" to censor content "reflecting various cultures, identities, and experiences."
Like Democrats, teachers unions are opposing parents’-bill-of-rights legislation because they say it'll create more problems and censorship, similar to the push to ban CRT in schools.
"Good schools and good school districts have always had curriculum transparency — including extensive two-way communication between parents and educators on what we are teaching and how to support our kids," Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement to NBC News. "Pretending otherwise is just the latest attempt by Chris Rufo and others to exploit the frustration of Covid to create a toxic environment where the biggest losers are children and their recovery."
Weingarten was referring to Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute who has been a leading voice in shining a light on left-wing ideologies like CRT being taught in classrooms across the country.
Michigan Department of Education Board Vice President Pamela Pugh, a Democrat, said a curriculum transparency bill introduced by Republican members of the Michigan House on Wednesday aims to disrupt the education system.
"There’s more than meets the eye at the root of these divisive, manufactured, chaotic bills that are being proposed" across the country as part of a national playbook, Pugh told Bridge Michigan. "It’s scare tactics and intimidation meant to cause mass chaos, mass confusion, and disruption to our education system."
"We’re not the enemy," Ingrid Fournier, a fifth-grade teacher in Ludington Public Schools, told Bridge. "Where is the trust? Just trust us."
Unions heavily opposed the Pennsylvania bill that was recently vetoed by Wolf, saying curriculum transparency bills are part of a larger push to ban teaching racism in schools.
"The shameful truth of racism, both historically and today, must be taught. And as a society we must not just teach it, but do all we can to collectively dismantle the systems that have long failed Black and brown people," Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan told Keystone Crossroads in October as the bill advanced through the state legislature. "This bill is far from a benign attempt at increasing curriculum transparency."
"The last thing students need at this time is further politicization of their education," Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said at the time, Keystone reported.
Ian Prior, executive director of the Virginia parents group Fight For Schools, slammed the left-wing opposition to curriculum transparency in a statement to Fox News Digital on Thursday.
"The far left went from saying that there is no critical race theory or gender identity grooming in schools, to now trying to hide what is going on in schools," Prior said. "That tells you all one needs to know about what is happening in America's classrooms.
"Government is supposed to be transparent except in very limited circumstances," he said. "Parents shouldn't need a security clearance to see what their children are learning in the schools that the parents pay for with their tax dollars."
Craig Strazzeri, chief marketing officer for PragerU, said in a statement to Fox News Digital: "It's insane that there is any opposition at all to curriculum transparency in schools - of course parents should be able to review in detail what their children are learning in our schools. What are they hiding?"
A nonprofit group led by former Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller launched a toolkit Wednesday aimed at helping parents understand their rights already granted under federal law in reviewing their child’s school curriculum.
The new guide provided by America First Legal (AFL) highlights provisions in the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment of 1978 (PPRA) that gives parents the right to inspect all learning materials at schools that receive federal funding.
"Part of the problem is that people don't know about this law," Miller told Fox News Digital in an interview Tuesday. "They don't know about their rights enshrined in federal statute, and that's because teachers unions, the schools, the administrators and teachers themselves don't want parents to know their rights. And so that's where we come in."
"The purpose of this endeavor from America First Legal is to let parents know what their current rights are under federal law – the kind of thing that groups like the ACLU should be doing but aren’t doing because they have fallen prey to a political agenda. They’re no longer in the business of defending civil rights and civil liberties," he said.
Fox News’ Tyler O’Neil, Peter Hasson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.