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Assembly Republicans approve bill to let parents opt kids out of ‘controversial’ lessons

Parents could opt their kids out of certain lessons and file suit for up to $10,000

Empty halls as students work on laptops in a nearby classroom.
Empty halls as students work on laptops in a nearby classroom in Newlon Elementary School early Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, which is one of 55 Discovery Link sites set up by Denver Public Schools where students are participating in remote learning in this time of the new coronavirus from a school in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans approved a bill Thursday that would give parents the power to review instructional materials for their kids and decide what name and pronouns they’re allowed to use at school.

Democrats decried the proposal as targeting LGBTQ+ students and said it would chill teachers’ abilities to teach about race and sexual and gender identities.

Gov. Tony Evers has pledged to veto any bill that would target trans youth. Asked whether he would sign this legislation, a spokesperson referred WPR to his previous veto of a similar bill when it passed last legislative session.

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As written, the bill — which passed by a vote of 62-35 on pure party lines — would guarantee parents control over which health care services, including vaccination, their children receive at school. And schools would be required to notify parents before subjects deemed “controversial” are discussed in class.

Parents could opt their kids out of certain lessons and be empowered to file suit for up to $10,000 if they feel any of those rights have been violated.

The bill defines controversial material as “a subject of substantial public debate, disagreement, or disapproval and specifies that the term includes instruction about gender identity, sexual orientation, racial identity, structural, systemic, or institutional racism, or content that is not age-appropriate.”

Republican supporters of the proposal say it gives parents authority over their own children’s education.

“When did it become extreme to inform parents … what’s going on at school?” said Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R- Oconomowoc, who has authored a separate bill that would require libraries to notify parents about what books their children check out. “Parents and schools need to get on the same page, not be working against each other.”

Democrats argued that the bill privileges the rights of some parents over others, such as those with LGBTQ+ children.

“This bill is not about the rights of parents. It is about allowing one or a few parents to limit the rights of students and the majority of families to access a safe, inclusive, honest learning environment,” said Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine.

Reporting from the liberal outlet Wisconsin Examiner indicates that the conservative legal center Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, or WILL, was closely involved in the drafting of the bill.

On Thursday, the bill’s author Rep. Robert Wittke, R-Racine, said the bill was coming forward for “simple reasons.”

“Too many parents right now feel they’re being ignored by school personnel and school boards when they’re expressing interest or concern about the educational upbringing of their child,” he said.

Similar legislation has passed in other states including FloridaNorth Carolina and Iowa, and in the U.S. House of Representatives.