WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans pressed ahead Wednesday with one of the central planks of their midterm election campaign, introducing legislation to give parents more of a say in school curriculum.
"That's what today is all about: It's about every parent, mom and dad, but most importantly about the students in America," Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in introducing the bill at an event on Capitol Hill.
Reflecting the importance to the GOP agenda, the parents' bill of rights is the first bill that McCarthy has formally announced as speaker. He was flanked at the event by dozens of parents and young children.
By turning "parents rights" into a rallying cry, Republicans hope to harness the frustration with schools that reached a boiling point during the pandemic when educators grappled with masking requirements, closures and remote learning for children. Many states with Republican-controlled legislatures have already enacted similar measures.
The proposal comes as the House Judiciary Committee has opened an investigation into the Justice Department and Department of Education for what Republicans contend is the mistreatment of parents who protested "woke" school board policies.
The GOP-led investigation is focusing on a letter the National School Boards Association, which represents school board members around the country, sent to the Justice Department in fall of 2021 outlining more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states.
The letter cited the arrest that September of an Illinois man for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly striking a school official at a meeting. In Michigan, a meeting was disrupted when a man performed a Nazi salute to protest masking.
"We are coming after you," a letter mailed to an Ohio school board member said, according to the association. "You are forcing them to wear mask -- for no reason in this world other than control. And for that you will pay dearly." It called the board member "a filthy traitor."
The term "parents' rights" has been invoked over the last century in disputes related to home-schooling, sex education and even the teaching of foreign languages.
Since the pandemic began, there was a shift where many parents joined a conservative movement pushing for state legislation giving them more oversight of their children's schools. At issue are library books and course material, transgender students' use of school bathrooms and the instruction of topics related to race, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Republicans capitalized on the issue during the November's midterms election after seeing Republican Glenn Youngkin win Virginia's race for governor in 2021 with his slogan "Parents matter." The national party embraced the message, with conservative political action committees funneling millions of dollars to school board races in the wake of frustration over remote learning and school mask mandates.
Democrats and education groups have argued that Republicans' efforts to establish a "parents' bill of rights" is an overreach that is proving to be more harmful to schools and educators than trying to empower parents.
"McCarthy would rather seek to stoke racial and social division and distract us from what will really help our students thrive: an inspiring, inclusive, and age-appropriate curriculum that prepares each and every one of them for their future," the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, said in a statement Wednesday.