Pursuit of social and educational equity can not be silenced


Shannon Rohlman

Recently, I brought my 11-year-old daughter with me along with community rabbis, reverends, members of PROMO (which advocates for LGBTQ rights) and allies of all ages to testify in Jefferson City against Senate Bill 42. 

This bill would cause insurmountable distress to Missouri’s teachers, deny children access to learning accurate history and the ability to engage in civil discourse, ban the teaching of the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and practically any text that mentions race, and overtly cause trans children additional barriers and harm by denying participation in sports. 

All this in one bill. 

Missouri State Capitol Building. Image: Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication

We barely fit into a crowded senate hearing room full of opponents, and most of us did not get the chance to speak. 

Only one supporter of SB42 testified: James Harris, a lobbyist with the Opportunity Solutions Project, a national nonprofit based in Florida. He admitted his own children attend a private school. 

Since the hearing, the trans athlete ban was removed and the bill was rolled into SB4, deceptively titled “Parent’s Bill of Rights Act of 2023,” targeting public schools and teachers and has already been debated on the senate floor. 

The LGBTQ+ bills are oppressive and remind me of something right out of a dystopian novel. However, let’s focus on SB4 and its detrimental impact on our community. 

| Related: Missouri Jewish leaders advocate for trans rights at state legislature

None of these anti-teacher bills were written by educators, undeniably expressed in the “Sunlight in Learning Act,” part of the bill which would require all instructional materials, activities, the full text of any video and audio files, books, presentations, lesson plans and more, be available for parents to view, and would be subject to district pre-approval. 

This is worse than book bans. It perpetuates the war on teachers, who are already overwhelmed by their endless roles and working over 60-hour weeks to ensure they are responsive to their students’ needs. 

Now, rather than planning lessons to strengthen the children’s social and emotional well being and academic achievement, they would spend hours upon hours documenting every aspect of their day. 

Shannon Rohlman

As someone who taught fifth grade remotely during the pandemic, simply staying on top of uploading materials and communicating feedback through Google classroom was depleting and unsustainable. Just ask any teacher who taught remotely in the spring of 2020 and you will marvel at their creativity and dedication. 

Secondly, this bill would deny students the right to learn accurate history. How do we build empathy if our children are denied the ability to learn the experiences and stories of marginalized cultures and trailblazers? 

Schools would be prohibited from creating assignments that compel students to engage in political activism on behalf of a specific policy or social issue. This could not be further from an educator’s core values, which include creating informed citizens who can thrive and participate in a global society. This is the work. SB4 would keep students from an analytic understanding of our history and events that shape us. It would prevent students from taking responsibility for the world in which they live. 

One-third of Missouri’s public schools are already going to four-day weeks due to a national teacher shortage and lack of funding for public education. Do legislators think this bill will attract more teachers to the field? 

I don’t want to live in a world where it does. I do, however, want to show my daughter who the bullies are in Jefferson City so she learns how ignorance and fear lead to cowardly decisions, and that being an upstander means showing up again and again and again. 

I urge Missouri legislators to vote no on SB4 and all bills that target teachers and trans students. After my daughter’s first time in the state capitol, she said she couldn’t wait to come back to lobby and testify. 

As for me, while I truly appreciate the hard work of everyone who is fighting the good fight, I’m still getting over the trauma. Please thank a teacher for being able to read this commentary and make informed decisions. Then take a hard look at the harm these bills would cause. 

The St. Louis Jewish community should be acutely aware of the decisions being made in the House and Senate that would affect every single one of us for years to come.

Shannon Rohlman is the director of instruction at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, a member of Central Reform Congregation and serves on the advisory board of Progress Women.