Advancing bill lets parents challenge instructional material

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate overwhelmingly passed a measure Thursday that would give parents a pathway to challenge school instructional materials they consider unfit for children.

The bill — Senate Bill 5 — aims to ensure the right for parental responses to books and other school materials containing explicit sexual content. It’s among a batch of bills under consideration by the Republican-dominated Legislature that would boost parental input over school policies.

The measure advancing Thursday would require school districts to create a process to challenge instructional materials that parents deem “harmful” to children.

The bill won Senate passage on a 29-4 vote, a few hours after it was reviewed in committee. The proposal now heads to the House. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

Republican Sen. Jason Howell said his bill would ensure that parents have a voice when school materials “are in conflict with their family’s values and beliefs.” He acknowledged the bill had stirred a divisive response — some colleagues believe it goes too far and others wish it was even stronger.

“For all, this bill brings clarity and consistency and accountability to the process,” Howell said. “The goal of this bill is to allow the greatest flexibility possible in evaluating material under local values and norms all across the many diverse communities in our commonwealth.”

Under the measure, parents would submit a complaint to the school principal, who would decide whether the materials in dispute would remain, be removed or be restricted. Parents disagreeing with that decision could appeal to the local school board. The bill guarantees parental input during the school board review and sets time limits on each phase of the process.

Parents disagreeing with the school board’s decision could choose to opt out their children from exposure to the disputed material. The bill also would direct the state education department to adopt a model policy for the complaint resolution process.

In opposing the bill, Democratic Sen. Reginald Thomas said it would be based on “value judgments.”

“It seems to me that the whole purpose of education is to allow people to be exposed to a myriad of ideas,” Thomas said while the bill was reviewed in the Senate Education Committee.

Kate Miller, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the bill amounted to “state-sponsored censorship,” apparently in response to books about sexual orientation or gender identity.

“But in years past, the focus has been on race,” Miller told the Senate committee. “And in coming years, it will be on something new.”

Bill supporters asked where the line should be drawn on sexual content in schools.

“When are we going to let our children be children?” Republican Sen. Stephen Meredith asked during the Senate debate. “Why do we want to rob them of their innocence?”

Democratic Sen. David Yates said he agreed there are materials too extreme for children. But he said the bill goes too far, applying to older teenagers and young children alike.

“Education is the way,” he said. “It removes the racism, the homophobia, the sexism. Education is the great denominator that moves us forward. And we’ve got to be really … careful as we limit that.”

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