"Parental rights bills could have chilling effect on science education"

WIsconsin State Capitol.

Education Dive (February 21, 2024) discussed Wisconsin's Assembly Bill 510, and similar "controversial issues" bills that would harm science education, with NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch.

As Education Dive summarized, "AB 510, a parental rights bill, would allow parents to opt children out of classes or instructional materials based on religious or personal conviction, require 'timely notice' when a “controversial subject” will be taught or discussed, and allow parents or guardians to sue a school, district or teacher if they believe a school has failed to apply the law."

Although no scientific topics are mentioned in the bill, evolution and climate change are arguably socially if not scientifically controversial, Branch observed. He also expressed concern about the opt-out provision, noting that it would place additional burdens on teachers and that, if widely used, would enable parents to exert "a heckler's veto" to ensure that material to which they object is not taught at all.

Branch urged concerned educators to voice their concerns about the bill to their legislators and their professional organizations. He also encouraged districts to prepare to stand by their teachers if such bills are enacted, saying, "It's important that districts, which have more resources than individual teachers, back up their teachers and make responsible choices" if faced with challenges under such legislation.

Assembly Bill 510 passed the Assembly on January 18, 2024, and the Senate on February 13, 2024. Governor Tony Evers vetoed (PDF) a bill with similar provisions in the previous legislative session.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.