The House voted Friday to pass the Parents Bill of Rights Act over objections from Democrats who argued the bill is aimed at promoting “fascism” and “extreme” views of Republicans by making it easier for parents to ban books and out LBGTQ+ students.
The GOP bill is a response to growing anger across the country about access to information on everything from school curricula to safety and mask policies to the prevalence of gender ideology and critical race theory in the classroom. Parents’ anger over these issues at school board meetings led to an effort by the Biden administration’s Justice Department to examine the “disturbing trend” of violent threats against school officials.
House Republicans reacted by approving the Parents Bill of Rights Act, which would require school districts to give parents access to curriculum and reading lists and would require schools to inform parents if school staff begin encouraging or promoting their child’s gender transition.
The bill passed narrowly in a 213-208 vote that saw just a handful of Republicans vote against it, along with every Democrat.
Democrats blasted the bill during debate this week by accusing Republicans of attacking LGBTQ+ students.
“This Republican bill is asking the government to force the outing of LGBT people before they are ready,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., argued on the House floor. “When we talk about progressive values, I can say what my progressive value is, and that is freedom over fascism.”
Republicans rejected this argument by saying parents have a right to know what’s happening to their children in school, especially if schools are promoting gender transition without their knowledge.
“The bill does not address a student’s identity or statements, but is solely focused on notifying parents about actions taken by school personnel to act on a gender transition, such as changing pronouns or switching locker rooms,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who chairs the House Education & Commerce Committee.
The bill says parents have “the right to know if a school employee or contractor acts to… change a minor child’s gender markers, pronouns, or preferred name; or… allow a child to change the child’s sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms or bathrooms.”
Democrats also accused Republicans of trying to make it easier to ban books at school, and several Democrats said Republicans are looking to ban books across the country on a range of topics.
“Extreme MAGA Republicans don’t want the children of America to learn about the Holocaust,” accused House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. “They want to ban a book called ‘Melissa,’ a book describing, in very personal terms, the experience of a trans girl beginning to understand her identity.”
“They want to ban books, they want to bully the LGBTQ+ community, they want to bring guns into classrooms, kindergarten and above. That’s their educational agenda,” he added.
Republicans dismissed those arguments by saying the bill does nothing to ban books and gives parents the right to see a list of books in school libraries and access to those books.
“Nowhere in this bill is it banning any books,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who said the goal of the language is to make sure parents are aware of sexually explicit books in school libraries.
Norman and others also argued that the books under attack in some states and communities are those that include explicit sexual content that they say is not appropriate for certain ages and isn’t a core educational requirement. Norman cited books that talk about kids who are “sexually active from the time I was six,” or that include “explicit images of oral sex.”
“Parents, is this something you want your children to read?” Norman asked. “Parents, is this something that encourages academics and allows that child to compete in the 21st Century?”
The bill passed by the House today would also give parents notice if there are plans to eliminate gifted and talented programs for kids, alert them to any violent activity taking place at school, and gives parents the right to speak at school board meetings.
It includes a sense of Congress that says school districts “should welcome and encourage that engagement and consider that feedback when making decisions.”