About 10 hours into a marathon floor debate over a wide-ranging omnibus bill last week, the Minnesota Senate approved a proposal that would prohibit teachers from requiring students to express their social or political viewpoints for school credit.
The plan from Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, came in response to a recent controversy in the Edina School District, where members of the Young Conservatives Club filed and later settled a lawsuit that claimed the district had violated their free-speech rights.
Nelson, a longtime teacher, said requiring students to talk about or defend their position on political issues in the classroom as part of an assignment is “a step in the wrong direction.” Other Republican senators agreed, noting that they’ve heard from students who feel they have to respond to assignments in a particular way.
“That’s probably why a lot of people don’t go to public school,” said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville. “Because they’re being told what to think.”
But DFLers, including Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, of Eden Prairie, a longtime teacher, said such a policy is a threat to free speech and an attempt to stifle critical classroom interactions.
“Teaching controversial issues is the toughest job I ever had,” he said. “Teachers should not fear facing discipline and retribution for getting their students to think for themselves.”
The debate on the Senate floor grew so heated that the Senate president had to urge members to calm down. An attempt to remove the provision from the bill failed on a party-line vote, and it was part of the broader bill approved later.