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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Students Could Opt Out Of Lessons Related To Gender, Sexual Orientation Under GOP Bill

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Wisconsin Eye
Rep. Donna Rozar is a co-sponsor of AB562, which would allow parents to opt out of instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation.

Wisconsin families would be able to opt students out of lessons pertaining to gender identity and sexual orientation under a bill introduced by Republican legislators.

The bill would require public schools to notify parents about instruction related to sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or gender expression. Families could then opt out of the lesson.

At an Assembly Education Committee hearing Thursday, co-sponsor Rep. Donna Rozar of Marshfield presented the bill.

"Parents or guardians must be in charge of their child’s sexual education and this bill simply affirms that fact," Rozar said. "It is a straightforward bill that provides transparency, allowing parents or guardians to remove their child from curricular content that does not align with their family values."

Democrats on the committee wondered if the bill would prevent teachers from talking about openly gay politicians like Tammy Baldwin, or historical figures like Harvey Milk. Milk was a prominent gay rights activist who was assassinated in 1978.

"Do parents need to be notified if Harvey Milk is mentioned in a book they’re reading about people in America, famous people?" asked Democrat Sondy Pope.

"I’m not familiar with – is that a real person?" Rozar responded.

"He’s a very real person," Pope said.

Rozar said the bill would not prevent teachers from referring to someone’s sexual orientation.

"I believe there are very subtle things that occur in public and charter schools that tend to normalize behaviors that are in conflict with some students' families' belief systems," Rozar said.

Even though the bill was added to the public hearing agenda last-minute, a dozen people showed up to testify – most in opposition. Madison resident Adrian George was one of several who worried about the bill's impact on students.

"This bill hurts all students," George said. "Given the chance to expand their minds and learn about identities other than their own is a gift, because they will encounter queer people in their daily lives and growing up. And without any background, they’re more likely to hurt them."

A spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers says he would veto the bill if it makes it through the Legislature.

The bill is part of a growing effort by Republican lawmakers to increase school transparency and give parents more control. Other bills include one that would create a new online portal showing school spending decisions and another that would require schools to post curriculum materials online.

There is also a bill circulating that seeks to restrict how schools teach about racism.

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Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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