A student raises a hand in a classroom
(File photo) Second graders study in their classroom Feb. 1 at Faxon Elementary School in Kansas City. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

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School safety, curriculum and discipline are among the many education-related topics on lawmakers’ minds as the Missouri General Assembly gets rolling on its 2023 session. 

The Beacon in recent days has published roundups of bills seeking to make it easier for families to leave their local public school district; money-related education bills; and proposed legislation affecting higher education. 

In all, at least 140 bills related to education were filed before and on Jan. 4, the first day of the legislative session. Not all of those bills will receive a committee hearing, and many will likely be amended over the next few months. But the large number of filings indicates that education will be a front-and-center topic in Jefferson City this year.

School protection and security officers 

Legislators have a wide variety of ideas for how to keep kids safe, covering gun violence, school police, emergency response and screening volunteers. 

Several proposals give school security officers more power. 

Rep. Chris Dinkins, R-Lesterville, filed House Bill 70 to allow any school personnel to be designated a “school protection officer” and carry a weapon with a concealed carry permit. Currently, the law specifies school protection officers should be teachers or administrators. 

House Bill 571, sponsored by Rep. Bill Allen, a Republican from Kansas City, also ensures officers commissioned by a school board and school protection officers can carry weapons on school grounds. 

Sen. Angela Mosley, a Democrat from St. Louis County, filed Senate Bill 328 which allows district security officers to arrest people reasonably suspected of a felony or whom they witnessed committing a crime. 

School shooting and gun violence prevention

Mosley’s Senate Bill 329 would create a category of orders of protection that would prohibit someone from possessing a firearm if their parent, teacher, school administrator or law enforcement demonstrates that they pose an immediate risk to themself or others. 

Rep. Mark Sharp, a Democrat from Kansas City, filed legislation that calls on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish a model for controlling access to school buildings that schools should enact by the 2024-25 school year. 

The proposal, House Bill 111, creates a grant program to help schools modify their entrances and says the requirements won’t be enforced until funding is available.

Rep. Brenda Shields, a Republican from St. Joseph, wants DESE to develop a protocol for schools to respond to blood loss, including keeping bleeding control kits in high-traffic areas and training a staff member. Her proposal is House Bill 116

House Bill 409, sponsored by Rep. Jo Doll, a Democrat from Webster Groves, would provide funding for after-school programs intended to reduce the risk of gun violence. 

Other safety issues

Rep. Chad Perkins, a Republican from Bowling Green, filed House Bill 426 to add requirements for schools to install automated external defibrillators — devices used to treat cardiac arrest — and train staff in their use. 

Rep. Willard Haley, R-Eldon, filed House Bill 503 to require schools to address the risks of carbon dioxide poisoning. 

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, filed legislation that would:

  • Make employees of statewide athletic associations mandated reporters.
  • Include “screened volunteers” in policies related to releasing information and handling sexual assault allegations.
  • Create a database of coaches and screened volunteers that includes information on sexual assault allegations and background checks. 

Richey’s proposal is House Bill 139. Arthur’s is Senate Bill 417

Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, filed Senate Bill 40 to require background checks for any adults who aren’t regular students but enroll in a course located at a public school while K-12 students are present. 

Parents’ and teachers’ rights

More than a dozen bills focus on parents’ ability to make decisions for their children in a school setting, including many editions of a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and several bills forbidding COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 

For example, parents’ rights included in Republican Sen. Curtis Trent’s Senate Bill 451 include: 

  • The right to access curriculum and staff training materials, school performance information and financial information. 
  • The right to opt a child out of any content with which they disagree. 
  • The right to opt out of health measures not required by the state. 
  • The right to be informed if a criminal offense has been committed against their child, unless the parent is suspected of committing the offense.  

The proposal also includes requirements for schools to make information publicly available in certain formats and time frames, such as providing all school curricula at least 30 days before the start of the semester. 

House Bill 192, sponsored by Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, would create a “teacher bill of rights.” Rights listed include: 

  • To be free from physical, oral, written or electronically generated abuse by students or parents. 
  • To exercise freedom of speech, religion and expression through the media. 
  • To refer to students by their legal names and “a reasonable pronoun” without reprisal.
  • To have adequate preparation time during the school day and to receive compensation when that doesn’t happen. 
  • To be free from the fear of frivolous lawsuits. 
  • To discipline students appropriately, have disciplinary decisions respected and remove disruptive students from the classroom. 

Curriculum prohibitions and requirements

Several legislators have filed bills that would prohibit schools from teaching certain concepts and topics, many of them related to sex, gender, sexual orientation and race. 

Subjects legislators would like to ban schools discussing and/or teaching include: 

  • Critical race theory and the 1619 Project, which focuses on America’s legacy of slavery (Senate Bill 42 from Republican Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville). 
  • “Divisive concepts,” as defined in the bills, many related to race, sex, privilege and oppression. (Brattin’s Senate Bill 42, Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins’ Senate Bill 172, Republican Rep. Brian Seitz’s House Bill 165 and Republican Rep. Ann Kelley’s House Bill 75). For more detail on Kelley’s proposal, which overlaps with many of the other bills, see The Beacon’s previous reporting.  
  • Gender identity or sexual orientation:
    • For students younger than third grade or for any students in a manner that isn’t age appropriate (Brattin’s Senate Bill 390).
    • For any students, except when parents give permission for a licensed mental health provider to discuss the topics. (Republican Sen. Mike Moon’s Senate Bill 134). 
    • For any students, unless parents are notified in advance as they would be for any instruction on human sexuality (Republican Rep. Brad Hudson’s House Bill 137).

About 10 legislators have also filed bills that would prohibit transgender students from playing on a sports team that matches their gender identity. One example is Senate Bill 29 from Sen. Tony Luetkemyer, a Parkville Republican who is the majority caucus chair. 

On the other hand, some proposals specifically allow or require schools to teach about certain topics. Those include: 

  • Allowing instruction on LGBTQ contributions to society (Democratic Rep. Doug Mann’s House Bill 507).
  • Requiring driver education as a graduation requirement (Republican Rep. Rodger Reedy’s House Bill 603).
  • Adding specific requirements for teaching about Western civilization and American history (Richey’s House Bill 595).
  • Requiring that history curriculum include Native American and African American history (Mosley’s Senate Bill 273 and Democratic Rep. Marlene Terry’s House Bill 66).
  • Requiring the observance of Black History Month (Sharp’s House Bill 112).
  • Requiring cursive writing instruction (Democratic Rep. Gretchen Bangert’s House Bill 232).
  • Allowing elective social studies courses on the Bible (Democratic Sen. Karla May’s Senate Bill 34 and Republican Rep. Ben Baker’s House Bill 484).
  • Creating a media literacy and critical thinking pilot program (Republican Rep. Jim Murphy’s House Bill 492).

Voting and elections

Currently, teachers are not allowed to serve in the legislature because they are considered government employees. Sharp’s House Joint Resolution 10 would add teachers to a list of exemptions from that rule. 

A proposal from Sen. Ben Brown, a Republican from Washington, would move school board elections to the November general election, make all terms four years and allow school board members to hold other offices. The legislation is Senate Bill 234.

Rep. Betsy Fogle, D-Springfield, filed House Bill 219. The legislation would add student and employee photo IDs issued by a Missouri high school, college or university to the list of acceptable forms of identification needed to vote. 

School discipline 

Rep. Ian Mackey, a Democrat from St. Louis County, filed legislation that restricts when schools suspend students and requires them to report suspension data. House Bill 159 prohibits suspending students in third grade or younger in most circumstances, as well as suspending any students for truancy or absences. It requires districts to consider alternatives. 

Mackey also filed House Bill 160 to prohibit corporal punishment in schools. Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, filed similar legislation, House Bill 121

Meals

Several proposals would provide free meals to all students who request one. They include Mosley’s Senate Bill 321 and Seitz’s House Bill 172.

A proposal from Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, would require certain schools to make breakfast available after the school day starts, allowing students who arrive late a chance to eat. The legislation is House Bill 446.

House Bill 565, sponsored by Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, ensures students who have meal debt can still be served the same food as other students without being stigmatized or publicly identified.

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.