State resolution aims to give private schools curricular autonomy

Emily Franke

On Jan. 26, 2015, Sen. Bob Onder (R-St. Charles) presented Missouri Senate Joint Resolution 12 (SJR12). This proposed constitutional amendment passed perfection in the House, and if it passes in both the Senate and House it will be submitted to Missouri voters in the fall election.
Perhaps the most controversial portion of the resolution states that “neither the state nor any political subdivision, nor any agency, entity, or person acting on behalf of the state or any political subdivision, shall dictate through statute, rule, regulation, or other device the content of curriculum to be used by private schools, parochial schools, parish schools, or for in-home instruction or a combination thereof, with the exception of laws which may require instruction in the United States Constitution and this constitution.”
Steve Scott of Scott Law Firm, P.C., viewed the document’s language as ambiguous and noted that the weaknesses of the law could negatively impact students. Scott said the broad language, especially pertaining to the definition of curriculum, is worrisome. He noted that if this law passes, then nonpublic schools would be get away with not teaching students subjects society in general has deemed important for their success.
“If this thing passes, there is absolutely nothing to prevent a … school that is sponsored by a religious organization from deciding that, for instance, we are not going to teach math and science because those are the tools of the devil,” Scott said. “That’s an extreme example, but it’s a theoretical possibility the way this thing is written. … So what happens, then, is you have basically state-sanctioned educational malpractice, in my opinion, because you have allowed these schools, because they say they had a sincere religious belief against teaching science or math or English reading and composition, to so called ‘educate’ children who will be woefully unprepared for the real world.”
However, Alisha Zelasko, a homeschooled student from Rolla, Missouri said she supports the bill because it seems to give homeschooled students and their parents the ability to decide what the students learn.
“I believe that the bill is good. It gives parents and the kids homeschooling freedom to choose what they want to learn,” she said. “Say someone loves art. They can put more focus and time in art than maybe a public schooler could. The schedule is flexible and can mold to a person and their special needs [or] interests. They can express and learn about their beliefs.”
As a member of the Columbia Public School Board for nine years (1985-1994), and a member of Americans United for Separation of the Church and State, Scott said this topic is important to him. He said although he’s not familiar with the impetus of this resolution, other states have seen similar documents proposed by conservative religious groups.
By Emily Franke