Missouri Lawmakers Debate Critical Race Theory, Allowing Parents to Censor Materials

Missouri House lawmakers began debating bills Tuesday that if passed would ban critical race theory from being taught in schools and allow parents to censor what their children learn.

The House Education Committee will consider one bill prohibiting Missouri schools from teaching critical race theory that was popularized by a 2019 collection of essays in The New York Times Magazine's 1619 Project.

"This bill in no way is trying to stop kids from thinking," said Republican bill sponsor Rep. Nick Schroer. "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 argue it teaches white students to feel ashamed or guilty when learning about the country's history of slavery and racism. On the other hand, proponents say it exposes children to a broader perspective and helps elevate voices often downplayed in American history.

The bill would prohibit schools from teaching 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."

Another bill also being considered is Republican Rep. Doug Richey's that would allow parents and guardians to censor class materials given to their children.

The bill would let parents block their children from accessing certain course materials "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." It would also increase parental rights when accessing their child's educational records.

"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.

Missouri Lawmakers Critical Race Theory
Missouri lawmakers will debate several bills involving education and banning critical race theory from schools. Members of the Missouri House of Representatives work on the House floor on May 17, 2019 in Jefferson City, Missouri. Tension and protest arose after the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill to ban abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy. Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle questioned whether comprehensive curricula bans served any method of practicality.

"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?"

Under Richey's bill, parents and guardians could sue schools for violations of their parental rights, winning up to $5,000 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.