Nebraska lawmakers advanced a bill Monday aimed at giving parents a bigger say in what schools can teach their children, while a more controversial measure on the same subject remains waiting in the wings.
The Legislature's Education Committee voted 7-0 in an executive session to advance LB71 to the first of three rounds of floor debate. Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha was present but did not vote.
LB71, introduced by committee member Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue, would require that public schools disclose instructional materials to parents and allow parents to request that their child be excused from certain lessons or activities. The bill is co-sponsored by four fellow Republican lawmakers on the committee — Sens. Joni Albrecht, Tom Briese, Lou Ann Linehan and Dave Murman.
Murman has introduced a similar bill (LB374), which he described as a more comprehensive version of LB71. Dubbed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights and Academic Transparency Act," LB374 would give parents access to review all learning materials their school uses, and give parents an opportunity to object and withdraw their students from lessons or activities in which materials are used that conflict with the “parent’s firmly held beliefs, values, or principles.”
Though he voted to advance LB71, Murman said that doesn't mean he has given up on his bill. He said the committee is still in discussions, and LB374 could possibly be merged with another measure that is being considered as one of the Education Committee's priority bills this session.
The bill that advanced Monday does not touch on several subjects in LB374, including language that critics have argued is related to the nationwide debate on critical race theory.
Murman denied that claim at the public hearing on his bill in January. Still, LB374 would prohibit instruction that promotes that members of a specific race are “inherently inferior or superior,” or “bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race.”
LB374 also would ban what Murman described as “data mining,” which he said refers to school surveys and questionnaires that ask personal questions, such as requesting students define their sexual orientation or gender identity.
If a school is found to violate the regulations set in LB71, it could affect the school's accreditation. In comparison, LB374 would allow a parent, student or teacher to sue the school if they believe it has violated the bill’s regulations. Murman's bill also would let parents submit a complaint to the Nebraska Department of Education if the school refuses to remove library content parents deem inappropriate.
Before she voted in support of advancing LB71, Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln clarified that a collection of minor amendments Murman introduced on the bill were meant as a protective tool against a potential filibuster, and not a "Trojan horse" to add his LB374 to the legislation.
Other bills that advanced out of the committee Monday were: LB222, which would prohibit state colleges from inquiring about a prospective student's criminal history or juvenile record as part of their admissions process; and LB455, which would appropriate roughly $1.1 million for a grant program aimed at creating and distributing a children's periodical for classroom use.