The House voted Friday to pass a controversial bill that aims to increase so-called parental rights in the classroom, as House Republicans spotlight an issue that has emerged as a key party priority.
The Senate is not expected to take up the bill and Democrats have criticized it an attempt to turn the classroom into a political battleground. The final tally was 213 to 208, with five Republicans crossing over to vote with all the Democrats against the bill.
Among other things, H.R. 5, also known as the “Parents Bill of Rights Act,” would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to require schools to provide parents with a list of books and reading materials available in the school library as well as posting curriculum publicly.
It would also require elementary and middle schools that receive federal funding to obtain parental consent before “changing a minor child’s gender markers, pronouns, or preferred name on any school form; or allowing a child to change the child’s sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms or bathrooms.”
Additionally, the legislation affirms parents’ rights to address school boards and receive information about violent activity in their child’s school.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said the Republican bill “will not see the light of day” in the Senate and has called the legislation “Orwellian to the core.”
In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Schumer described the measure as a “school control bill.”
“If passed, schools across the nation would be forced to adhere to a panoply of federal regulations that take power away from parents and school districts. Again, let me repeat that: it would take power away from parents and school districts, away from educators, and put it in the hands of elected politicians. Again, the GOP that treasured small government, local control, is long since gone, replaced once again, by hard right MAGA ideologues,” Schumer said.
House Minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, was upbeat leaving the vote because Republicans lost five votes while Democrat lost zero. “They don’t want to ban books,” he said
In a news conference after the vote, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said, “In this bill we say, parents have a right to be heard. They should be able to go to school board meetings and not be called terrorists.”
How a debate over ‘parental rights’ has played out nationwide
For Republicans, parental rights in education emerged as a significant political issue during the Covid-19 pandemic, when school closures, along with mask and vaccine mandates, upended family routines and renewed scrutiny over school leadership. The issue gained prominence for Republicans after Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial election following a campaign that placed “parents’ rights” at its center.
Republicans across the country, arguing that discussions around race, gender identity and sexuality are inappropriate for young children, have used the banner of “parental rights” to push for a curtailment of such conversations in schools, even though opinions on the matter vary widely among parents.
Critics have broadly argued Republicans have used the issue to turn the classroom into a battleground and advance a political agenda. LGBTQ rights advocates, in particular, have argued it is a conscious effort to stigmatize a vulnerable slice of American society and could have a chilling effect on what they believe to be urgently needed discussions.
In some states, such as Texas, Florida and Iowa, parental permission is now needed to discuss certain topics with students. Other states, such as Georgia, have put parents and school communities in charge of vetting books their children could encounter at school for signs of race-related or sexual themes, appealing to conservatives who have voiced concerns about “radical” literature.
“I think the pandemic brought to light for a lot of us moms and dads, for the first time ever, we sat down and we saw what our children were being taught through the virtual classroom. And when we saw that, so many of us were disheartened with what we were viewing – and so then we did the right thing, right? We went to our school boards and voiced our displeasure, but we were turned away,” Republican Rep. Julia Letlow of Louisiana, who sponsored the House legislation, said earlier this month.
Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, has denounced the bill previously telling CNN, “Parents and voters agree that elected leaders should be focused on getting students the individualized support they need, keeping guns out of schools, and addressing educator shortages.”
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.