1474 & 1995


Ivy Reed

Two bills in the Missouri legislature aimed at protecting parents’ rights have fueled a debate over critical race theory.

The Hearing

By 8 a.m. on Tuesday, January 11, Missouri House hearing room seven was packed full of Missourians waiting to testify in the coming Joint Education Committee hearing. Among them were parents, teachers, students and members of advocacy organizations. Outside, dozens gathered to watch through the glass doors as even more filed into hearing room six, which had been opened to hold the overflow.

Just past the hour, inside hearing room seven, Representatives Doug Richey (R-38) and Nick Schroer (R-107) took their seats in front of the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education committee. The topic of the hearing: House Bills 1474 and 1995.

House Bills 1995 and 1474 – backed by Reps. Richey and Schroer respectively – were set to be combined into a single bill. The bills establish similar requirements for public schools meant to increase transparency between teachers and parents. 

“We acknowledge what we have historically acknowledged as a people, as a culture, as a society,” said Rep. Richey in his opening statement, “that parents have a fundamental right, responsibility and authority when it comes to their children, and we appreciate that. That’s what this bill communicates.”

However, the motivating factor for many of the attendees was not the bills’ protection of parental rights, but their provisions concerning the ban of “critical race theory,” or CRT, in public school curricula. 

The discussion initially centered on the parental rights outlined by the bills, but began to shift towards the section regarding critical race theory as the representatives fielded questions from the committee members. As Reps. Richey and Schroer left the stand at 9:25 a.m. to allow for witness testimony, the conversation veered almost entirely in the direction of CRT.

Witness testimony allowed attendees two minutes to deliver a spoken statement before the committee, and to answer any subsequent questions from the committee. The witnesses alternated between those in support and opposition of the bill.

Supporters of the bill argued that the provisions banning CRT in public schools were necessary, and that parents should be given more direct control over public school curricula.

“I’ve been trying to work with legislators on good legislation that will have a positive effect on our education system,” said Andrew Wells, the Missouri chapter president of No Left Turn in Education, who testified in support of the bills. “[The system] is supposed to be those core principle concepts of reading, writing, math, history, science, all that base stuff that we seem to be losing in our education system because we are becoming more and more concerned with social issues.”

Witnesses opposing the bill felt that the bills’ presentation as protecting the rights of parents were a means of slipping into law legislation regarding critical race theory. Many entirely disagreed with the validity of CRT as an ideology or legitimate concern.

Committee member Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern (D-15) called bill 1474 “a Trojan Horse to destroy quality education,” and a “smokescreen to harm [Missouri] children and their ability to receive a quality education.”

In addition to presenting strict but elastic preventions to the teaching of CRT in Missouri classrooms, the bills banned by name specific class resources such as We Stories, Teaching Tolerance, and The 1619 Project of the New York Times.

Dr. Mary Byrne, a co-founding member of Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, argued that The 1619 Project allowed teachers to develop lesson plans on “what is basically a belief system, not history.”

“You want to teach it as creative literature? I’m fine with that. You want to teach it as a point of view from a Black writer who wants to promote her worldview? But it’s not history,” said Byrne.

Laura Horwitz, co-founder of We Stories, testified against the bills.

“The purpose of We Stories is to equip and build community among parents who want to start conversations with their young children about race,” said Horwitz. “While I strongly oppose this bill, I can see how it taps into something very real that many white parents are worried about. Too many of us have had experiences with conversations about race that have gone poorly.”

Horwitz emphasized the importance she felt of literary organizations like We Stories promote, which the bills would ban.

“Before you legislate anything, step away from the talking points, pick up a book with a character of color as the protagonist, have your own experience and do not take away that opportunity from Missouri students,” said Horwitz.

Testimonies continued until just before 10:00 a.m., when the representatives had to return to the House chambers. They resumed at 11:45, where the conversation continued to focus on the parts of the bills mentioning CRT.

Just before noon, Mr. Wells gave the final testimony in support of the bills. In it, he argued that CRT was being taught in Missouri schools, and expressed fears that curricula were shifting away from fact and towards politically motivated content.

“If it is being taught as a piece of literature, that’s one thing. If it’s being taught as historically factual, when it is not historically factual, that’s another thing,” said Wells. Wells later said that he felt that much of the history taught in schools today lacked objectivity, and that Missouri teachers were injecting their opinions into their curriculum.

Are we so petrified of losing power that we are willing to strip our students – our future – of the right to think freely?

— Poppy Orchard

“Truth is subjective,” said Wells. “Your truth and my truth are two different things. Your truth is based on your opinions and what you think is right and wrong, and your history and your life experiences […] my truth is different. History should be based on facts and proof.”

Following Wells’ statement, oppositional testimonies continued until the conclusion of the hearing. Penelope Orchard, a CHS sophomore, testified against the bills.

“As members of a nation that prides itself on freedom of speech and competition of ideas through good-faith discourse, we should find the propositions of these bills defective, and we are hypocrites for even considering them,” Orchard said in her statement. “What are we afraid of? Are we so petrified of losing power that we are willing to strip our students – our future – of the right to think freely?”

Witness testimony continued until just past 12:30 p.m., when the committee adjourned, and written testimony was accepted through an online portal until 12:00 a.m. January 12.

Ivy Reed

The Legislation

House Bill 1474 contains a section called the “Parents’ Bill of Rights Act of 2022,” which proposes codifying parents’ ability to make copies of curriculum documents and review curricula without a requirement of nondisclosure agreements.

Bill 1995, in its section cited as “The Parents’ Bill of Rights for Student Well-Being,” requires public schools to develop “procedures for a parent to object to instructional materials and other materials used in the classroom based on such parent’s beliefs regarding morality, sexuality, religion, or other issues related to the well-being, education, and upbringing of such parent’s child.”

Reps. Richey and Schroer presented this assurance of parental control over education as being the main purpose of the combined legislation.

If the legislation were to pass in its current form, school districts in the state would be required to send a form to every parent at the beginning of the year that would allow parents to request notification in advance of “divisive or controversial” topics being taught in the classroom. 

At face value, legislators and witnesses across the aisle felt as though the wording was overbearing and impractical, if not dangerous, for school districts across the state.

“Our world is constantly changing, evolving, things are constantly happening, and questions are always being asked in classrooms,” said Catherine Devany, a junior at Clay County High School, who testified against the bills. “It’s just not realistic for teachers to know every single thing they’ll talk about in a classroom before the year even starts.”

Many in opposition said that the provisions either already existed in Missouri schools, while supporters argued that they did not in some districts, and that the concept – if not the exact wording – behind these inclusions would reinforce parents’ say over their child’s education.

“I’ve heard, you know, that we don’t need a bill because [parents] already have these rights,” said Rep. Richey. “Well, these rights are not being honored in certain areas within our state. Is it a Trojan Horse? Absolutely not. It’s to clarify for the superintendent, the school districts and also the parents to know that there is a minimal starting point.”

Representative Ian Mackey (D-87) – alongside a majority of the opposition – believed that the bills were indeed a “Trojan Horse” designed to instead facilitate legislation around CRT.

No school district, charter school, or personnel or agent of such school district or charter school shall: (1) Teach, use, or provide for use by any pupil any curriculum implementing critical race theory as part of any curriculum, course materials, or instruction in any course given in such school district or charter school.

— HB 1474

“It’s a gimmick. Calling it the Parent’s Bill of Rights implies that there’s no legitimate criticism to be had, right?” said Mackey. “Who doesn’t agree that parents have rights and that they should be able to access them when it comes to their children’s education?”

Those legitimate concerns – and the main topic of witness testimony on both sides – were the sections regarding the place of critical race theory in the classroom.

House Bill 1474 defines the implementation of CRT in schools as “any curriculum that: identifies people or groups of peoples, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutable, or systematically racist, biased, privileged, or oppressed”, or “employs immutable, inherited, or objective characteristics such as race, income, appearance, family of origin, or sexual orientation” “to define a person’s identity,” “classify persons into groups,” “perpetuate stereotypes” or “assign blame to categories of persons.”

The bill’s specific banning of The 1619 Project, Teaching Tolerance or “other similar predecessor or successor curriculum” was controversial for attendees of the hearing, many of them former or current educators who came to express concerns about the potential impact of these bills in the classroom.

“I’m an English teacher, and I taught The 1619 Project,” said Piper. “[…] I used it for its poems, its poetry, that sort of thing. So I understand The 1619 Project and Representative Schroer’s bill bans things that are way out of the spectrum of The 1619 Project. So in American Lit, I wouldn’t be able to teach about civil rights, I wouldn’t be able to teach about the Harlem Renaissance, colonial literature, that sort of thing.”

Heather Fleming, now the founder and director of In Purpose Educational Services, is also a former teacher who is concerned about how these bills would force her to rethink her curriculum if she was still working in the classroom. 

“The first thing it does is it takes my energy and focus off the things I need to be focusing on,” said Fleming. 

Piper is worried about the long-term effects these bills could have on the current national teacher shortage.

“If people are under the impression that there are thousands of [certified] teachers waiting in the wings for this very moment to jump into education, they’re sadly mistaken,” said Piper. 

Ivy Reed

The Legislature

After the testimony ended, Rep. Paula Brown (D-70) debriefed on a bench outside the hearing room. Brown, a former teacher, serves as the ranking member of the Joint Committee on Education and felt positive after the hearing. 

“I am hopeful that we can work together to create a bill that might be a good bill for both parents and kids and educators,” she said. 

Democrats have historically faced an uphill battle in the Missouri state legislature, where Republicans held a supermajority until six recent vacancies left them one seat short of a two-thirds majority. The shifted dynamics of the current session prevent Republicans from overriding vetoes or passing emergency clauses without bipartisan support, and have allowed Democrats to exert more influence over Republican-backed legislation.

The last controversial education bill to pass the Missouri legislature, HB 349, established an education savings account program to promote school choice. Although the bill was approved by Governor Parson last summer, Brown said Democratic opposition was strong and hundreds of witnesses testified against it. 

She is hopeful that similar legislation in the future will not have uniform Republican support. 

Mackey also commented on the partisan nature of the bills and their surrounding conversations. 

“I think today is kind of an anomaly in that regard,” said Mackey. “Most of our conversations, and even the one today, to some extent, especially in the private conversations I had after the public testimony don’t always cut along partisan lines.” 

However, the Missouri legislature has followed the national trend of increasing polarization. Mackey described cooperation within the education committee as “growing increasingly difficult, and not just on the topic of education.” 

“A lot of the bills we talk about want to address grievances with school boards and school districts and a lot of times we agree that a grievance exists and we sometimes disagree as to the methods or approach for how to address it,” said Mackey. “Something like today is completely different. It is so difficult to begin the conversation because we can’t agree on basic facts. And if you can’t agree on the difference between a fact and an opinion, and you can’t agree on what the facts of a particular situation are, you can’t begin to respectfully and civilly discuss divergent viewpoints.” 

In terms of future trends, many members of the legislature agree that House Bills 1474 and 1995 will certainly not be the last of their kind. 

“We’re not anywhere close to being done with the conversation,” said Mackey. Similar legislation concerning CRT’s place in the classroom has come before education committees across the country in recent years.

The phrase “critical race theory” originated in the late 1970s as a framework for legal analysis, but has become a common phrase used to denote the teaching of history through a lens of systemic racial oppression and historical power dynamics. 

An analysis by Education Week found that since January 2021, 33 states have introduced bills or other restrictions that would limit critical race theory and how teachers can present issues of racism and sexism. In 14 of these states, these measures have passed through legislation or been otherwise implemented.

In terms of next steps in Jefferson City, Mackey has plans to continue trying to reach a bipartisan agreement.

“What I’m doing is talking to every single member of the committee, asking them their thoughts on the testimony they heard, and trying to connect folks who are skeptical of what they heard today, or who might be thinking of supporting the bill, connecting them with folks who testified or were going to testify, continuing to try to persuade colleagues who may be malleable because there are some who are malleable,” he said. “And then also talking to folks who may even be hostile about the situation and trying as best we can to figure out what the facts of the situation are, and how we might potentially, at some point, agree on one of them.”

Mackey predicted that the bill would eventually be voted out of the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and taken up by the Rules Committee, but as of publication it has not moved committees. If the bill eventually makes it out of the Rules Committee, it would go to the House floor for a vote. However, Mackey and his fellow minority party members hope to use stalled time for leverage, as is often their strategy in the Missouri House. 

As the debate over CRT continues around the country, the future of the legislation in Missouri remains unclear. As Brown pointed out, “Sometimes, we can’t always stop the boulder from rolling down the hill.”