Senate passes GOP parental rights in schools resolution amid heated debate

By: - February 22, 2022 2:08 pm

Octavio Jones/Getty Images

The GOP-led Michigan Senate voted today to adopt a resolution that aims to “affirm” that the state Legislature keeps a “commitment to the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education of their children.” 

The non-binding measure, Senate Resolution 107, was introduced by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) and says “some education systems and elected officials across the country have been disregarding or infringing on parents’ rights related to their children’s education.” 

The resolution will not change any laws or policies regarding academic curriculum nor will it change a parent’s ability to take part in their child’s education. 

The measure, part of a national right-wing effort that encompasses other Republican legislation in Michigan, claims that “radical politics” are infiltrating the public school curriculum and claims that parents have been “ignored, shamed or silenced.” The resolution calls on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to publicly acknowledge the rights of parents in education. 

The bill was approved on the Senate floor 22-16 — along party lines — after half an hour of back and forth between lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. 

Sen. Stephanie Chang | Susan J. Demas

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), who voted against the resolution, said that “parents are doing the best they can for their kids every day” and noted that “parents do have a say in the direction of their child’s public education” by electing school board officials. 

“Parents don’t want kids shielded from parts of our history,” Chang said. “They want their kids to learn the kind of critical thinking skills analysis and problem-solving that comes from learning the whole truth about our country’s history, including the painful parts of our history of racism. Parents want opportunity for their children.”

Chang went on to say that she hopes the legislative body will “focus on the hopes and the aspirations that many of our parents have for our next generation” instead of “feeding on the fears of a small, small but loud set of people.”

State Sens. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) also spoke against the resolution, noting that the resolution is “trying to have parents supersede the professional charge of educators” and called out the Legislature for “trying to devalue the teaching profession writ large.”

“What this resolution fails to understand and appreciate, and apparently, an alarming number of people who aren’t educators failed to understand and appreciate is the tripartite student, educator, parent relationship that should be an inherent part of education,” Geiss said. 

Both Chang and Geiss, along with state Sens. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Paul Wojno (D-Warren), introduced their own bill package earlier this year to ensure K-12 public schools, charter schools, and intermediate school districts include curriculum lessons regarding the histories of Asian American and Pacific Islanders; Latin Americans, Hispanic Americans Caribbean Americans; Indigenous Peoples and Native Americans; and Middle Easterners and Chaldeans beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

State Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) said he was “amused to hear the comments about” the tripartite relationship between parents, teachers and students that Geiss made because of his own experiences talking to parents who feel “so discouraged”. He said that parents felt “that they had no ability to influence the school system” and “no ability to influence the school board.” 

Runestad also referenced a since-deleted tweet made by the Michigan Democratic Party in January that brought into question a parent’s right to decide what students can be taught in public schools. This reference was rebuked by state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), who said the post was “stupid” and that no Democratic elected official made the post. 

State Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) further said that “parents have rights” and that “we learned over the COVID period, that when our kids were sent home, that parents had a big role in their kids’ education.”

Theis added that that parents “are rightfully fed up” about being “threatened by activists within their school boards, teachers, unions and leftist politicians” that “are doing everything they can to separate parents from their children academically.” 

Sens. Lana Theis and Aric Nesbitt talk to reporters, May 7, 2019 | Michael Gerstein

“The only hope for getting kids back on track is to ensure that their parents have a say both in where they are taught and what they are taught,” Theis said. “It is parents, not governors, not legislators, not educational elite, who are in the best position to know their children’s needs and circumstances. It is the parent’s authority that must be respected and maintained to ensure the best decisions for Michigan’s children and their education, their health and their well-being.”

The adoption of the resolution comes as the Michigan Legislature is grappling with other Republican-introduced pieces of legislation that aim to further protect parents’ rights in education as well as boost transparency in schools. 

One of these bills, House Bill 5722, introduced by state Rep. Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.), would require before the first day of instruction, schools must make school curriculum, every class offered within the school district, textbooks, literature, research projects, writing assignments, field trips, extracurricular activities, and a list of every teacher working at a school available to the public. 

Another bill, House Bill 5703, introduced by state Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland), would mandate that the text in the state Constitution and school code ensuring a parents’ rights in education be posted in rooms where a school board holds its meetings in addition to school administrative buildings and the principal’s office. 


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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.