In addition to pushing an unconstitutional voucher bill, Republican leaders in the state House and Senate have been moving a number of controversial measures that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is likely or promising to veto.
From bans on mask mandates to bills restricting educators’ speech on issues of race, to a resolution condemning U.S. Justice Department efforts to stem right-wing groups threatening school board members across the country, the Legislature has focused lately on making partisan moves.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 600-603 which would bar mask mandates in schools or school board meetings, vaccination requirements, and COVID-19 testing of asymptomatic students, among other aspects of the bills.
Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), a longtime friend of public education, said Republican leaders in both chambers of the Legislature would put citizens’ lives at risk by stripping health officials of long-standing tools to address public health threats using science and data.
“I have now watched – for week after week – the Health Policy committee, the Education committee, turn into a place where conspiracy theories, lies, and nonsense reign,” Hertel said in a fiery floor speech.
Also this week the Senate passed SB 460, which would penalize school districts with state funding losses for teaching about important aspects of racism and history in the U.S. The House Education Committee has passed a similar bill, HB 5097, which awaits a vote on the floor.
Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown), a former teacher who voted against the bill in committee, said in a statement that lawmakers should be focused on legislation to better support educators and public schools – especially given all of the challenges facing our students and communities.
“Instead, this bill does the opposite — not only does it seek to further legitimize the bogus claim that schools are teaching critical race theory, it would create a chilling effect on free speech and the appropriate discussion of our nation’s complex racial history,” Camilleri said.
In other action, the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday passed a resolution condemning the U.S. Department of Justice for initiating an investigation into whether threats and intimidation against school board members for their positions on controversial topics constitute crimes.
School officials and educators across Michigan and the U.S. have been subject to increasing threats of violence in recent months by small groups of vocal parents and other individuals affiliated with right-wing groups.