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Jacques: Classroom concerns about more than 'hate'

Lana Theis doesn’t defend her fundraising email from last month that called out a Democratic Senate colleague as a groomer of children. 

I’m sure Theis, a Brighton Republican, wishes that email never was sent, as it's overshadowed the broader message she was trying to convey. Theis cares deeply about students in Michigan and thinks their parents need to know more about what’s happening in classrooms. 

The backlash has been severe, and it allowed Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak to go viral when she responded to Theis’ accusations that she and other Democrats were “outraged” they can’t “groom and sexualize kindergarteners.” 

McMorrow has also gained a following with her hashtag #HateWontWin. She tweeted this week that conservatives are “manipulating you with fear. Don’t let them.”

It’s more nuanced than that. 

More: Jacques: GOP shouldn't give Dems upper hand in culture war over schools

Yes, Theis’ campaign sent out that email. But she is not a hater, just as McMorrow isn’t a groomer. 

“All our children need to be supported, all of our children need to be cared for, all of our children need to be heard, of course,” Theis says. "But they also need to be told the truth, and we’re not doing that.”

The issues she’s passionate about and her concerns over what’s being taught in schools don’t deserve to be tossed aside. Yet whenever she’s raised questions about critical race theory or whether Michigan should allow transgender athletes to play on teams of their choice, she’s quickly shot down by Democrats as trying to marginalize kids.  

“You see what happens when you have the conversation,” Theis says. “It is a very one-sided discussion and there is no acceptance for anybody who disagrees with them.”

Theis, who chairs the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee, firmly believes this discussion centers on parental rights. How matters of race, sex and gender are taught at school has changed significantly in the past 15 years, Theis says, but many parents are just now becoming more aware of what’s happening. During the pandemic, most children had to log on at home (some longer than others), and she says parents heard what was being discussed and they objected and started showing up at school board meetings. 

“I believe COVID pulled back the curtain,” Theis says. “I think we were aware of it a little, but we had no idea the full extent.”

This mirrors what’s happened around the country, with parents standing up to COVID policies and shuttered classrooms in addition to what their children are learning. They are also taking their frustrations out at the voting booth, choosing candidates like Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Virginia who ran on a parental rights agenda. 

Theis points to specific books that she knows are in some Michigan school libraries or being taught in the classroom. Books such as “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health” depict in graphic detail masturbation, sexual positions and LGBTQ relationships. It’s targeted to children ages 10-13. 

Other books such as “Push” describe a father raping his daughter, also in great detail. 

It’s content like this that Theis says parents should have a say in. 

“Do you believe preschoolers and elementary school children should be exposed to complex sexual and gender identity issues?” she asks. “Or do you believe children should be able to maintain their innocence at those young ages?”

Theis says she’s heard from many frustrated parents, some of whom have taken their children out of public school because of what’s being taught. She doesn’t want that to become a trend, and she would like Michigan parents to be able to trust their neighborhood school districts. 

“This is not about hate,” she says. “This is about genuinely caring and being concerned for these children, and making sure we respond appropriately.”

On a personal note

After 12 years at The Detroit News, this is my last column. I am moving to a national publication, but staying based in Michigan. I’m excited about the opportunity and will be sharing more information soon. 

I know we may not always agree, but I appreciate all of you who have taken the time to read my columns, write me and share your perspective. I’ve learned a lot through hearing from you. 

Column writing is extremely personal, even when it’s about politics, so thank you for letting me share my views — and a part of myself — with you. 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques