AMNA NAWAZ: Today, the U.S. House stepped into the fiery debate about kids and classrooms, passing a bill that Republicans say protects parents' rights in every school district, but opponents call a dangerous move in a culture war Our Lisa Desjardins reports.
PROTESTERS: Shame on you!
LISA DESJARDINS: For years flaring.
WOMAN: We can't trust that you would actually listen to us.
You have obviously got a fully formed opinion, LISA DESJARDINS: And sometimes roaring.
Debates over schools and kids have now reached the U.S. Capitol.
REP. AARON BEAN (R-FL): Should parents have the right to be involved in their child's education?
That is the question before us.
REP. MAXWELL FROST (D-FL): But what about the rights of our students?
What about the rights of our young people.
Why are my Republican colleagues not advocating for our students?
LISA DESJARDINS: Where House Republicans passed what they call a priority bill.
WOMAN: The bill is passed.
LISA DESJARDINS: It is H.R.5 called the Parents Bill of Rights.
It would require that parents be allowed to see curriculum plans, lists of materials and can look at any available books, also that they will be told about school budgets and any incidents of violence.
Republicans say this is simple.
It comes out of years of COVID lockdowns and parents sidelining that led to tension and this, a Department of Justice notice in 2021 about threats to teachers and school boards.
Some parents felt they were labeled as the threat.
REP. CORY MILLS (R-FL): These parents are not to be labeled as domestic terrorists.
They are proud parents.
LISA DESJARDINS: But the debate shows this is also a political and cultural battle with much deeper layers to it.
REP. GLENN GROTHMAN (R-WI): There is this hostility to traditional values that is seeping into the public schools today.
LISA DESJARDINS: And, in response, deep opposition to this from some parents.
PROTESTER: No on H.R.5!
PROTESTERS: No on H.R.5!
LISA DESJARDINS: These parents from a group called the National Parents Union believe the bill could harm their kids with a chilling effect on what they can read.
PROTESTER: We got Minnesota.
We got Illinois.
We have New Jersey.
LISA DESJARDINS: They came from across the country to say it misses the real issues in their schools.
Jillian Rainingbird is here from Kansas City, Missouri, because she sees increased violence and kids, especially kids of color, failed by schools and resource issues.
A mom, including of one child with disabilities, she thinks this bill is a dangerous distraction.
JILLIAN RAININGBIRD, National Parents Union: It's devastating to our to our communities that our kids can't read.
But yet and still we want to debate what books are going to be taken out of the curriculum.
If the kids can't read, why does it even matter anyway?
So let's quit playing with us.
Let's start focusing on the real meat and potatoes, and that's about student and family success.
LISA DESJARDINS: But others disagree, like the mom who sponsored this bill, Representative Julia Letlow, and parents who joined her and Speaker McCarthy at an event last month.
STACEY WHOMSLEY, Board Member, West Chester Area School District: Hi.
My name is Stacey Whomsley.
I'm a resident of Westchester, Pennsylvania.
LISA DESJARDINS: Whomsley is a mom who ran and won a seat on her local school board after her own experience left her feeling shut out by school officials.
STACEY WHOMSLEY: To have my advocacy for my children characterized as some political ploy was really -- it was really hurtful.
LISA DESJARDINS: Whomsley says the Republican bill is also mischaracterized and is not about banning anything.
STACEY WHOMSLEY: It doesn't say, this book is good, this book is bad, you can say this word, you can't say that word.
What it says, what it affirms is that parents have a right to know what is being taught.
LISA DESJARDINS: At the Capitol, though... MAN: General debate shall be confined to the bill.
LISA DESJARDINS: ... most controversial has been a part of the bill requiring that teachers notify parents if students are being treated as transgender.
Republicans say that addresses parent fears of being in the dark.
REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-NC): Our bill insurance commonsense transparency for parents of children to reflect these concerns.
LISA DESJARDINS: But Democrats say that is dangerous for kids.
REP. ANGIE CRAIG (D-MN): This is about MAGA Republicans who want to start a fake culture war targeting some of the most vulnerable kids in America in our kids' classroom.
Shame on you.
LISA DESJARDINS: All of this comes with its own civics lesson about parents with the same ardent motivation, but in completely separate conversations.
ANASHAY WRIGHT, National Parents Union: This could be a unique opportunity to bring us together.
But it could just keep pushing us apart, because we are not listening.
We hear each other talking, but we're not listening.
LISA DESJARDINS: House Republicans celebrated the bill's passage today.
But it is not expected to move in the Senate.
To talk about what this means for families and in politics is Jennifer Berkshire.
She's a journalist who co-host the education podcast "Have You Heard" and is co-author of "A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door" about the future of public education.
Jen, let's start by just -- let's just take the politicians out for a second.
What do we know about where Americans are on this issue of parents and schools?
JENNIFER BERKSHIRE, Co-Author, "A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School": Well, one thing we know is that the polls have been remarkably consistent over the past couple of years, that parents and Americans across the board -- and I am talking about both political parties, which, as you know, is so unusual right now - - opposition to anything having to do with book bans and limits on what teachers can teach and kids can learn is broad and deep.
And I think people might be really surprised to hear that, because you probably think that these laws that keep popping up are -- they must be in response to popular demand.
And that actually is not the case.
LISA DESJARDINS: I want to take apart sort of the two sides of this.
And, first, I want to check in with the parents driving this idea.
Is there knowledge that you have, what do we know about the idea that parents in this country are getting blocked out?
What is happening there with school systems?
JENNIFER BERKSHIRE: So, first of all, I think it's really important to acknowledge just how awful the pandemic was for everyone, but for parents in particular.
And so I think it would be a big mistake for us to just write off this movement as Astroturf or the product just of politicians who want to stir the pot in order to reap political gold.
There's definitely something going on.
But it's also the case that the longer we see this movement, as we watch it evolve, the causes keep morphing, and the demands get more and more extreme.
And so, whereas there was initially quite a lot of support for things like, say, reopening schools, or greater parent involvement in schools, now, more and more, as we see those demands start to translate into things like banning particular books, or focusing so much attention on trans kids in particular, you see public opinion in favor of that movement diminish.
LISA DESJARDINS: And that's what I want to ask about, because this bill that was passed in the House, we don't think it's going to go much farther.
But this bill doesn't have a book ban in it.
But the opponents say that this is part of conservatives especially using the phrase parental rights to push opposition and even shut out some things that those parents oppose, like books.
What do you make of that?
Is this sort of a behind-the-scenes push?
Are these things connected?
Or is there no connection?
JENNIFER BERKSHIRE: I thought it was really interesting that you heard so many Republican leaders get really defensive about precisely that question.
And that's because they know that, for more and more Americans, the parents' rights cause is getting harder and harder to distinguish from these unpopular book bans.
And one thing that we should really remember is that there were a lot of politicians who ran on the parents' rights cause during the midterms, and they did not do well, where you saw -- we saw Republicans win when they were up for reelection when they were reaching out to the base.
But as far as an issue that galvanized suburban women, in particular, the parents' rights cause was a failure.
And I think you hear that in these concerns of leaders on Capitol Hill, who are worried that what they thought was going to be this cause that lured independents or suburban women is now coming to be seen as something actually extreme and unpopular.
LISA DESJARDINS: I noticed something when I was reporting this story that I wasn't looking for, but it was hard to ignore.
If you look at these photos, the one on the left is a photo of Speaker McCarthy and the supporters of this parents' rights bill.
Now, on the right, you see the opponents in the picture I took with them yesterday.
There's a clear difference between these two groups.
On the left, you see the supporters, mostly white -- appear to be white families.
On the right, you see those who appear to be almost entirely people of color.
It made me wonder, what is the role in race here?
Is there one?
JENNIFER BERKSHIRE: Absolutely, there's a role.
So many of the earliest iterations of these bills limiting what teachers can teach and kids can learn more focused on race.
And I think that those -- that picture you just showed is so striking, and that part of the -- part of the reason that we're seeing the popularity of the cause drop is precisely that -- precisely because of that, that I could point you to one state after another where some kind of restrictive law has been passed, and there is a version of the picture on the left that looks exactly like that.
Why is it always -- why are the kids always white?
What is going on?
And I think there is a strong element in a race playing into this that people are definitely picking up on.
LISA DESJARDINS: One last quick question.
Is this issue a fad, or is this an issue that you think will be here a long time?
JENNIFER BERKSHIRE: Actually, this is not the first time we have seen parents' rights emerge as an issue.
And when it came up in the '90s, one of the reasons that lost support and withered away was precisely what we're seeing now.
The more people get a clearer sense that something that sounds good in the abstract, giving parents more say, too easily translates into banning particular books or limiting what kids in a whole school have access to, the less they like it.
LISA DESJARDINS: Jennifer Berkshire, a conversation I know so many of our viewers are interested in and we will continue to have.
JENNIFER BERKSHIRE: Thank you so much for having me.