Classroom Graphic

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri House lawmakers on Tuesday debated bills that would ban critical race theory in K-12 schools and give parents and guardians more control over what their children learn, an issue that likely will dominate this session.

One bill, considered in the House education committee, would prohibit Missouri schools from teaching critical race theory, a framework for examining the effects race and racism have on the nation's institutions.

The theory was popularized in The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, a collection of essays on race that first appeared in a special 2019 issue.

“This bill in no way is trying to stop kids from thinking,” Republican bill sponsor Rep. Nick Schroer said. “It’s trying to prevent educators (and) prevent institutions from flooding kids with a certain train of thought (and) teaching them this is the only way to think about these situations.”

Opponents of critical race theory argued Tuesday that it teaches white students to feel ashamed or guilty in the context of learning about the nation’s history of racism and slavery. Proponents say it elevates voices that are often downplayed in American history and exposes children to a broader range of perspectives.

Under Schroer's proposal, schools would be banned from using any curriculum that “identifies people or groups of people, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, biased, privileged, or oppressed.”

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers questioned the practicality of sweeping curricula bans.

“Couldn’t you conceive that those curriculums could include certain general claims or views or facts that might be entirely appropriate to teach in a public school, and then what happens when a public school teaches one?" Republican Rep. Phil Christofanelli asked Schroer. "Have we prohibited a whole category of thoughts from entering the public school just because they were mentioned in an outside curriculum over which we have no control?”

Republican Rep. Doug Richey's bill, also considered Tuesday, would allow parents and guardians to censor class materials provided to their children “based on such parent’s beliefs regarding morality, sexuality, religion, or other issues related to the well-being, education, and upbringing of such parent’s child.”

Along with the right to block their children from accessing certain course materials, Richey's bill outlines a number of parental rights including access to children's school records and curricula.

“We need to send a very clear message that the state of Missouri, if we ever have to choose a side, we will always take the side of parents,” Richey said.

Under Richey's bill, parents and guardians could sue schools for violations of their parental rights and be awarded as much as $5,000 if they win in court. The state attorney general, Republican Eric Schmitt, could also sue for as much as $10,000, with some of the potential court winnings going to a new state scholarship fund that pays for private school tuition and other education expenses.

Democratic Rep. Paula Brown said the 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.”