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Illinois bill would empower parents to object to school lessons, books

Children color in a classroom (Jordan Elder/WICS)
Children color in a classroom (Jordan Elder/WICS)
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A package of bills introduced by Illinois Republicans aims to give parents more access to what is taught in their child's classroom.

States across the nation are making similar efforts, but critics say it's an attempt to halt lessons on subject matter like gender, race, and sexuality.

Republican lawmakers say this is all to increase transparency, but some feel there are other issues at play.

"This is about making sure that parents and students have access to the curriculum that's taught in their schools," said Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, at a February press conference.

Barickman and other Illinois senators rolled out a package of bills similar to one introduced in the House, and they say it's aimed at one thing: transparency.

Some bills would require all school curriculum to be posted online for parents to review at least twice per year. Another requires school libraries to keep a public list of all their books. Under another bill, school boards would have to give parents a process to object to what's being taught.

"This bill isn't targeting any particular subject or learning materials," said Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, of Senate Bill 4179.

But not everyone believes these motives are so pure.

"Transparency is great, parents should know what's going on in their children's classroom," said Scott McDonald with Stand for Children Illinois. "But we shouldn't be using transparency as a way to restrict the kind of free-flow conversations that are happening in their classrooms."

Bills like this have popped up in 17 states as debate continues about the role race, sexuality and gender play in classroom lessons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Conservatives nationwide have been critical of lessons involving these sensitive topics and calling for parents to have more involvement.

"Though those issues are not articulated explicitly in this particular bill in the state but that is an undercurrent because the text is so similar to bills that are appearing nationally," said Carol Tilley, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Tilley filed in opposition of the bill aimed at libraries.

As a former librarian, she says it's repetitive. Many schools already have a book catalog and curriculum details available to the public.

Districts also host back to school nights and parent teacher conferences, or have assignments and materials available for viewing in online portals.

"Ultimately, I worry about the potential of a chilling effect, that librarians may feel intimidated by legislation like this," Tilley said.

McDonald says there are better ways for parents to get involved in what their child is learning that still makes kids feel like they're being accepted.

The ACLU is also critical of these bills, saying in a statement, "some of these so-called ‘curriculum transparency bills’ are thinly veiled attempts at chilling teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in schools."

Critics also say these bills are going to take valuable time away from teachers. The bills want specifics about curriculum, so instead of saying we're learning about the civil war, teachers would have to give the books, the articles, and the videos they're using to teach it.

Some of these bills have stalled after hearings in mid-February.

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Across the nation, there have been efforts in 36 states to restrict what students are learning about racism and its impact on U.S. history.

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