Pa. House bill for 'parental rights' seeks ban on class instruction on sexual orientation, gender identity in elementary schools

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton/Centre, speaks Tuesday inside the State Capitol Rotunda in support of her bill proposal that would establish a ‘parental bill of rights’ and ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools.

HARRISBURG — A new bill proposing a now-familiar restriction sought by some Republican lawmakers — barring classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools — was introduced in the Pennsylvania House.

House Bill 2813, introduced by state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton/Centre, would require “age appropriate” instruction specifically in grades K-5. Deemed a parental bill of rights, it declares that parents and legal guardians have a “fundamental right … to make decisions regarding a student’s upbringing and well-being.”

The proposal also looks to establish parental notification procedures for health care services and related questionnaires and would require schools to notify parents about changes in a student’s health care services or monitoring for mental, physical and emotional health.

“This is a bill to protect our children from gender ideology and sexual orientation from being taught in our schools — the same nonsense that is now on the Department of Education’s website,” Borowicz said at a press event Tuesday inside the State Capitol Rotunda.

Borowicz’s bill mirrors Senate Bill 1278, introduced by state Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster. Martin’s bill extends the proposed classroom instruction ban to pre-kindergarten. He had said it wouldn’t prohibit teachers from engaging in organic conversations on these topics raised by students. What it does, he said, is shield students too young to engage in sexually charged discussions.

Opponents have likened it to a Florida bill derided as the “don’t say gay bill.” State Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, has called it worse, effectively saying members of the LGBTQ community don’t belong. She said it risks the health and well-being of a community already at heightened risk of bullying and self-harm.

Martin’s bill had passed along party-line voting in the Senate earlier this summer and is now pending consideration in the House.

Borowicz and 20 state House Republicans demanded in August that the Pennsylvania Department of Education scrub from its website a page dedicated to gender-inclusive language and online resources for teachers. Short of that, they said, acting Education Secretary Eric Hegarty should resign.

Five Republican U.S. congressmen followed that demand by jointly signing a letter to the state seeking an investigation into concerns about “radical indoctrination” and library materials “unfit for school-aged children.”

The Wolf Administration previously dismissed the Republicans’ calls as distractions, with a spokesperson saying the information has been available for years on the state website and has since become a political talking point.

Representatives of the Human Rights Campaign along with the Pennsylvania State Education Association each separately defended the online resource materials as tools for teaching inclusivity and respect as well as preventing bullying.

Kris Tassone, policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality and a longtime resident of Pennsylvania, said Pennsylvanians “deserve better” from politicians who are discriminating against transgender and nonbinary children for “political gain.”

“Schools have an obligation to educate all students, and the information provided to students and educators by Secretary Hagarty’s office reflects the best scientific and fact-based information currently available about the truth of LGBTQ people’s lives. Empowering educators with these resources improves education outcomes and the success of Pennsylvania’s children,” Tassone said.

State Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, author of a since-vetoed bill designating scholastic sports by biological sex, offered her support during Tuesday’s Capitol press event. Gleim offered companion legislation to Borowicz’s bill, House Bill 2815, that would remove a legal exemption for school libraries to possess and exhibit materials that would violate obscenity laws that apply to minors.

State Reps. David Rowe, R-Snyder/Union, and Kathy Rapp, R-Wayne/Crawford/Forest, both spoke in support, with Rowe taking the opportunity to express support for school choice.

Fenicia Redman, a Chester County mother who sued her child’s school district, Great Valley School District, also spoke during the event. She passionately voiced opposition to the inclusion of largely LGBTQ+ books like “Gender Queer” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” in school libraries that depict in graphic detail sexual encounters between minors.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, said accusations that Republicans are seeking a book ban is a “red herring.” Disputed materials could be kept out of circulation but made available with parental permission, he said.

“That we even have to have this debate and discussion just defies reason and logic,” Mastriano said.

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CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

Eric Scicchitano is the CNHI Pennsylvania state reporter. He is a former CNHI Reporter of the Year and previously worked at The (Sunbury) Daily Item before until he took over the Harrisburg beat in January 2022. Email him at erics@cnhinews.com.

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