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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

House OKs a broadly written 'parental rights' bill

A large, empty classroom.

Montana Republican lawmakers say parents should have more control over their children’s experience in public schools. One of their proposals passed and one failed, approaching Friday’s deadline for general policy to advance.

The two bills carried by Republicans in both chambers of the statehouse are pitched as protection of parental rights.

Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton brought Senate Bill 337, which says parents have the right to opt out their student from any lessons they deem harmful, to be notified of any clubs their student participates in, to provide written consent before a transgender student can use new pronouns, and consent to all physical and mental health care their student receives.

Manzella said the list is not exhaustive, and the policy, “Must be construed in favor of a broad protection of the fundamental rights of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their child.”

Democratic Sen. Edie McLafferty, a 5th grade teacher from Butte, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying it’ll put significant burden on public school districts and that it makes inaccurate assumptions about what happens in schools.

“The attack on teachers just has to end. You want to put your child in a private school, a charter school, go ahead and do it. But when you’re doing it, don’t make a black on the public school or the teachers.”

The bill passed an initial vote in the state Senate 27-23, but just hours later, two senators changed their mind to vote down the bill.

A similar parental rights proposal passed the state House of Representatives. It broadly says government entities cannot obstruct parental rights. Republican legislators say it’s important to require parental involvement in all decisions regarding their child. Opponents say they worry the bill will make it harder for children to report abuse and access services.

The bill would also require that schools allow parents to opt-in, rather than opt-out, of human sexuality education. Several other bills moving through the process also aim to restrict sex education.

Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing