A Wisconsin legislative bill aimed at strengthening parental oversight of their child’s public education is working its way through the state Legislature, with one of the two branches adopting it along partisan lines.

Assembly Bill 510, if enacted as drafted, would give parents a number of protections, including the right to determine what pronouns their child can use in school. The legislation also would give parents an opt-out clause for any curriculum taught that conflicted with household personal convictions or religious beliefs.

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Additionally, it would require parental notification whenever a “controversial subject” is addressed in the classroom. Racism, gender identity and sexual orientation were cited as some of the examples.

The Wisconsin Legislature, which has a Republican majority in the House and Senate, is in the midst of its 2023-24 legislative session. The Assembly adopted AB 510 on a 62-35 vote after an impassioned debate during a floor session on Thursday, Jan. 18.

AB 510 now is in the hands of the state Senate, where members of the Committee on Education are reviewing its contents.

The Jan. 18 Assembly debate over AB 510, which lasted more than an hour, mirrored much of the national discourse over issues concerning parental roles in public education, with the split occurring along partisan lines.

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Proponents of more stringent protocols have expressed a range of concerns with the current state of public education and have argued transparency has been lacking. Opponents say legislation such as AB 510 would be harmful to marginalized students.

State Rep. Rick Gundrum, R-Slinger, introduced a previous parental rights bill in the Wisconsin Legislature.

“It’s time that we get back to protecting the rights of our parents,” Gundrum said. “In the last session, I was approached by a large group of parents from a school district in my Assembly district. They were frustrated and angry, having their rights trampled and abused. They asked me for my help.”

During the debate, state Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, deemed many of the “what-ifs” raised by Assembly Democrats as “gaslighting.”

“I’m listening to all of the rhetoric today, and it’s kind of stunning to me,” Dittrich said. “When did it become extreme to inform parents what’s going on at school? We are seeing an undermining of parental authority, where schools are working against parents, and we need to get to a point where the two trust each other again. Having ground rules in place is imperative to that.”

On the other side of the political aisle, state Rep. Ryan Clancy, D-Milwaukee, described AB 510 as an “anti-trans bill.”

“It is simply a distraction,” Clancy said. “If the Legislature is truly concerned with working for families, I would suggest less time focused on these nonsense bills and putting that time into supporting schools and childcare, raising the minimum wage and expanding healthcare.”

Even if it passes the Wisconsin Senate, AB 510 faces challenging headwinds. Democrat Gov. Tony Evers vetoed  similar legislation Gundrum introduced in 2022.