Parents’ rights or censorship? A bill championed by an NC Republican passes US House

What’s so bad about “To Kill a Mockingbird?”

Or “Of Mice and Men?” Or “The Kite Runner?”

“The Life of Rosa Parks” by Kathleen Connors? “Melissa” by Alex Gino?

Democrats asked that question of various books that have been banned by at least one U.S. school district in the United States as they debated a federal “Parents Bill of Rights” over 48 hours in Congress.

Also known as HR 5, Republicans say the legislation would give parents more say in their child’s education. Democrats argue it would be a vehicle to censor important lessons in the classroom.

The bill passed the U.S. House on Friday.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from Banner Elk, championed the bill through committee hearings and on the House floor, where an exasperated Foxx repeated from her podium that HR 5 would not jeopardize books in schools.

“This bill will not ban any books,” Foxx said. “Let me repeat: this bill will not ban any books.”

“Our bill is meant to give parents their God-given rights to be involved in their children’s education and to seek the best education possible,” Foxx said. “We do not want anybody to be treated unfairly. We want everyone to be treated fairly. We do not want to ban books.”

As he introduced the bill earlier this month, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, listed what he says are the five main pillars of the legislation: the right to know what your child is being taught in school, to be heard, to see school budgets and how they spend money, to protect your child’s privacy, and to be updated on any violent activity at school.

The bill passed the House 213 to 208 but isn’t expected to survive a vote in the Senate, where Democrats hold a small majority. Even if it does, the likelihood of President Joe Biden blocking the bill from becoming law makes it virtually dead on arrival.

That didn’t stop the House from spending the majority of Thursday afternoon arguing the merits of the bill and offering up 22 amendments. That includes two amendments offered by Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, targeting LGBTQ youth.

One amendment added to the bill states that if a school allows a transgender girl to play on a sports team, her parents must be notified. The second forces notification if a school allows a transgender child to use a bathroom or changing room matching their gender identity.

Both passed without a roll call vote, making it unclear which lawmakers approved them.

Foxx, who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, led the debate, while the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia, oversaw the opposition.

Foxx said parents learned firsthand what their children were being taught in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools were closed and learning moved to an online format.

“Teachers’ unions and education bureaucrats worked to push progressive politics in the classroom while keeping parents in the dark,” Foxx said. “The Parents Bill of Rights aims to end that and shine a light on what is happening in schools.”

Foxx argued that when parents are involved in their children’s education, students thrive.

Scott said the bill does nothing to increase parents’ involvement in the classroom.

“Let’s be clear,” Scott said. “There is nothing in this bill to give parents the right to dictate what their children are taught. Instead, this bill is one of the many attempts by Republican politicians to give a vocal minority the ability to impose their beliefs on all parents and students, and this extreme agenda has extreme consequences for parents and students.”

Democrats’ largest concern regarding the bill is that if school libraries are required to create public lists of every book they offer students — a mandate in the bill — it could create a chilling effect. They said they worried that advocacy groups could find books they don’t like and either tell the school to ban them or face a lawsuit.

They worried aloud that schools would rather ban a book from the campus than face costly lawsuits they couldn’t afford.

Scott called the bill a political gag order that prevents teachers from teaching and students from learning and puts politics over parents.

House Republicans aren’t alone in trying to get a bill like HR 5 passed. Last year, more than 84 bills to expand parents’ rights in schools were introduced by 26 state legislatures. North Carolina’s lawmakers have a version before them now.