Conversations around character development and classroom speech began in Senate Committees last week.

Testifiers shared desires to bring character development back in all schools during on Monday during the Senate Education Finance Committee.

A discussion followed on whether or not there was a scientific basis for morality and ethics. A presenter said that through neuroscience, we identify behavioral genetics and map emotions that allow communities to flourish or be harmed. Testifiers also noted that there are numerous historical writings from around the world that could be used to raise a child well and develop character.

Edina Lawsuit

The second part of the hearing on Monday turned to the recent lawsuit settlement between a group of students and the Edina School District. Testifiers spoke to, what they see as, an issue of oppression and indoctrination in the Edina school district’s “All for all” plan.

The plan is designed to promote inclusion but some students felt that they were being made to feel guilty based on their white heritage and privilege. Students and parents gave example of how they or their children were being abused and bullied. They claim that the school is hyper-politicized and their conservative views were not being represented.

There were questions as to why this wasn’t brought to the attention of the principal and covered under the current bullying laws. The students claimed that teachers and administration are part of the problem. Parents also spoke to the lack of accountability in disciplining students by school leaders.

Senate Reponse

Sen. Carla Nelson also introduced a bill on Thursday to the Senate Education Policy Committee to change the current character development statute. SF 2487 relates to two informational hearings that were held earlier in the week in the Senate Education Finance Committee.

Sen. Nelson opened her presentation saying that language will help make sure that all ideas are respected in schools. It guarantees free speech and removes ideology from the classroom.

The testimony from the public was both for and against the language. The proponents were many of the same people that testified on Monday on the Edina School issue. There were also opponents of the proposal from Edina and other areas that said this is unnecessary and could limit a teacher’s ability to bring up controversial topics in the classroom.

There were many concerns regarding the scope of the language. Education Minnesota testified that the bill is unnecessary, unworkable, and probably unconstitutional. There is already a code of ethics in place for teachers and this takes away local control. It was also brought up that this could violate the free speech rights of a teacher. Enforcement was also a concern discussed.

Sen. Eric Pratt said this was a controversial conversation about a controversial issue. The situation in Edina troubled all of the senators on the committee. There were very strong feelings on both sides of the debate and it is clear this is a divisive issue in that community.

The discussion remained civil and respectful, but there were strong feelings were clearly present in all the testifiers. Proponents of the bill feel that it is necessary to make sure that a school is open to all views. Opponents state that this will restrict teachers, cause them fear, and inhibit their ability to teach critical thinking to students.

In the end, there was a request for a roll call vote. The bill passed 5-3 on a party line vote and was moved to Senate Education Finance Committee.