The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


Missouri Senate Bill 4 and what it means for our schools

Nationwide, governments are becoming increasingly involved in regulating school districts. Some teachers, like National Education Association Representative and history teacher Jeffrey Chazen, disagree with partisan involvement. “I should not be liberal or conservative. You should not be able to tell what I am based on my teaching. [Teachers] should be neutral arbiters when presenting the information,” Chazen said.

Missouri Senate Bill 4 (SB4) passed the State Senate in March and is now in discussion at the House. The bill, sponsored by Senator Andrew Koenig of the 15th district — which includes Parkway West  — addresses many issues in elementary and secondary education. However, certain parts of SB4 have generated much controversy among political organizations, parents and teachers alike.

Parent’s Bill of Rights

The “Parents’ Bill of Rights Act of 2023” allows parents to access all curriculum materials and documents from a school where their child is enrolled within two days. Many supporters of this section of the bill believe that it will help parents become more involved in their children’s education and be aware of what is being taught. According to the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri-based think tank promoting and researching public policy, a number of parent groups around the state were organized specifically because they were unable to access information about curricula or teacher training. Show-Me Institute’s Director of Government Accountability, Patrick Ishmael, reports being contacted by dozens of parents interested in pursuing greater transparency and accountability for schools and school districts.

“A Parental Bill of Rights represents a reaffirmation of something that I think parents thought they had before, but during and after the COVID-19 experience, a lot of parents felt like they didn’t have those rights and those powers to properly control and direct their kids’ education,” Ishmael said. “There are a lot of different interpretations and structures for Parent’s Bill of Rights across the country, and they include or exclude different items, but from my perspective, the transparency element is the most important. Whether you’re talking about cities or counties or schools or school districts, the public has a right to know what’s going on with their money. Certainly, parents have a right to know what’s going on with their kids’ education.”

In addition to teaching materials, the bill would give parents access to information about guest lecturers and outside presenters. It also allows parents to access records regarding their child, notifies parents of felony and misdemeanor charges against employees or visitors of the school, and requires parental consent to record biometric data.

“[The Parent’s Bill of Rights] gives [parents] access to school records concerning their child and gives them access to information about the collection and transmission of data on their child and situations involving school safety. I think that makes a lot of sense. Parents should have access to that information if they want to make an informed decision about their child’s education,” Parkway parent Chris Kallaos said.

Some teachers, like National Education Association Representative and history teacher Jeffrey Chazen, are concerned that the bill would not benefit his classroom.

“They already have that information,” Chazen said. “Any parent could see what I’m doing all year, based on just looking at their students’ handouts. Most teachers publish some sort of syllabus before the beginning of the year that highlights what we’re going to teach, so parents can, on day one, figure out what I’m teaching and what the units and lessons [are]. So, for government to say that this is being more transparent is, to me, disingenuous because we’re already being transparent.”

In addition, SB4 requires that all of these course documents are posted online and made accessible through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website for parents to view. According to district officials, it would cost Parkway $150,000 to hire staff to comply with the bill’s policies. 

“Either I’m a professional, or I’m not a professional. And if I’m a professional, then I don’t need to be babysat in order to do my job. There [are] enough babysitters within the Parkway School District that watch and tell me what to do — I don’t need [the] government to do it as well. I’ve been hired to do my job, and I have to be trusted to do my job,” Chazen said. “If you get people who have review possibilities, then the next step is they’re going to tell me how to teach it, and then they’re going to tell me what to teach. That’s where we get into problems with politicians, both on the liberal and conservative side, when they start to dictate their own beliefs into teaching.”

Infographic describing parts of the bill.
Many provisions were added to SB4 in committee and during debates as a result of bipartisan compromises. (Serena Liu)

Discussion of certain concepts and beliefs 

SB4 also bans the teaching “that individuals of any race, ethnicity, color or national origin are inherently superior or inferior and that individuals, by their race, ethnicity, color or national origin, bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others.” The bill also clarifies that it should not be used to ban the teaching of historical concepts like segregation or the Holocaust.

Many of the bill’s supporters hope that this section will prevent the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and similar concepts in elementary and secondary education. While CRT originated as a legal and academic theory that discusses how racism and slavery have impacted social institutions in the United States, many people define the concept differently. Koenig, in a report from May 2022, stated that CRT “leads to the baffling conclusion that every institution and system in the United States, including government, is inherently racist” and denounced its use in the classroom. 

While a 2021 Department of Elementary and Secondary Education survey found that only three districts — Kansas City Public Schools, Hazelwood and University City — used critical race theory concepts in their curricula, some groups, such as the Show-Me Institute, are concerned that districts are dishonest in their reporting.

“Regardless of what the underlying curriculum might be, there are lots of approaches to educating kids. Parents should at least know what that approach is. Certainly, there are districts in Missouri that have been explicit that they teach critical race theory. Kansas City Public School District explicitly told us and has told the state that they teach critical race theory in the classroom. I appreciate their honesty about that even though I might have reservations about their use of that material in a K-12 context,” Ishmael said. “My biggest concern is the schools and school districts that are actively trying to avoid being explicit and honest with the public about what they’re teaching kids.”

Ishmael noted that some school districts were charging high costs in exchange for information about course content. Some districts attribute high costs to how long it would take staff to fulfill these requests. Under current laws, public agencies like school districts can charge fees to cover the costs of finding and delivering these records. 

“[High fees] means that they don’t want to provide you with information because they expect that you’re not going to pay them for it. There are a number of rural school districts across the state that wanted over $200,000 for these records,”  Ishmael said. “It isn’t so much the content, which I think we all disagree. The biggest problem for me is that a lot of parents simply don’t know and can’t judge whether they believe that the curriculum is appropriate or good, or effective. The CRT issue is an important one that there needs to be an honest and open conversation about. But, first and foremost, parents in the public need to know what their tax dollars are funding. And the only way you can get there is with active transparency from schools and school districts.”

However, SB4’s language goes beyond the issue of transparency to specifically address and ban the use of CRT. A lesson that Koenig specifically mentioned was his belief that the Parkway and Rockwood school districts utilized an “Oppression Matrix in teaching, which he sees as a racist policy. However, Parkway parents have a range of opinions on the issue.

“There [are] pros and cons to teaching critical race theory. My expectation of teachers is that they should present facts and they should teach their students how to think critically about those facts and form their own opinions. The version of the bill that I read essentially says we don’t want schools to adopt beliefs related to critical race theory, but there’s nothing that prevents a teacher from having a discussion about those. That’s a really slippery slope,” Kallaos said. “I err more on the side of protecting free speech, and I would encourage parents that have concerns about critical race theory to have those conversations with our students.” 

Nationwide, critical race theory is a widely controversial topic, with 44 states introducing bills to ban its teaching. Furthermore, in 2021, Rockwood teachers faced threats from parents upset about CRT.

“I don’t think I should be told what I can and cannot talk about, especially if we want education to be relevant to what’s going on today. We’ve got to talk about what’s going on todayand that’s going to be both good and bad,” Chazen said. “Any good teacher knows how to control the classroom so that there’s free discussion of ideas, but [the discussion is] not becoming attacking or inappropriate.”

Patriotic and civics training program

The last section of the bill would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to build a patriotic and civics training program for teachers to take in exchange for a one-time $3 thousand bonus. When discussing this section, Koenig stated that he wanted “positive things taught in the classroom.”

However, opponents see little value in creating this training. Missouri public school students are required to take a three-part test on the US Constitution, Missouri Constitution and Missouri Civics to graduate.

“To graduate from high school in [this] state, you have to pass a Missouri Constitution exam. I question the validity of requiring that type of training in elementary and secondary education because I think it’s duplicative of what we already have. Also, the bill doesn’t call out what that training is supposed to look like or what the content of that training is. It’s very nebulous, vague and I think it’s gonna be hard to enforce,” Kallaos said.

Chazen also notes that every Parkway West student must take a government course beginning in eighth grade. Missouri students are required to complete an end-of-course exam in government to graduate.

“We already pushed [civics]. I don’t think we need to do anything above and beyond that. People aren’t going to become effective and active citizens based on what the government requires us to do. They’re either going to care about what’s going on, or they’re not going to care. And I don’t think [the] government’s going to have much control. I think, if anything, it’s going to push people away from being more engaged if it’s forced down people’s throats,” Chazen said.

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Serena Liu
Serena Liu, Editor-in-Chief
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Who is your hero? My mom! She’s the most incredible person I know and also she reads my stories so she might see this. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Mac & cheese all the way.
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    Lauren HolcombJun 3, 2023 at 10:26 am

    this article is so good you’re so talented I love you

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Missouri Senate Bill 4 and what it means for our schools