Parents across North Carolina want their voices heard on what’s best for their children, especially after two years of lockdowns, mask mandates, and changing curriculum.

Catherine Truitt, superintendent for the N.C.  Department of Public Instruction is giving parents that platform through a new Parent Advisory Commission 

“This Commission is focused on giving parents a seat at the table and strengthening parent and family involvement in education,” Truitt said. “Parents play an integral role in encouraging their child to achieve excellence in the classroom.” 

The 48-member advisory board will include six parents or guardians from each of the state’s eight educational regions to ensure diverse geographical participation. The advisory commission comes as parents are removing their children from traditional public schools across the country and North Carolina.

The commission’s membership will include parents with students enrolled in traditional public schools, charter schools, homeschool, and private schools to ensure broad representation of all school choice options across the state and include feedback.  

The composition of the commission includes two traditional public schools, one charter public school, one homeschool, one private school, one at-large public-school member from the largest county in each region, including Buncombe, Catawba, Cumberland, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Pitt, and Wake. 

Parents from across the state can apply through March 31. The application can be found on the DPI’s website. 

The advisory board of parents will discuss challenges and will put together recommendations for elected officials and policymakers, giving direct feedback to Truitt. Members will serve two-year terms, with the full commission aiming to convene quarterly beginning this summer. The full commission will be composed of regional sub-groups, which will hold monthly meetings conducted both in-person and virtually to accommodate parents’ schedules.  

It’s clear, considering the past couple of years, that parents need to have a loud, clear voice in regard to guiding their’s children’s education.

Total K-12 enrollment in 2020-21 fell by nearly 3%, or 1.5 million pupils. Pre-K had the biggest drop, with a 22% decline, according to data from National Center for Education Statistics.

North Carolina has seen a decline of 4.4% — or nearly 63,000 fewer students, according to a report from Carolina Demography. 

Average Daily Membership is the most accurate way to measure how many students are enrolled in a respective school. In North Carolina, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had the largest ADM decline, with 8,055 fewer students. CMS was followed by Wake County Schools, 4,234; Rowan-Salisbury Schools, 3,292; Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, 3,246; and Guilford County Schools, 2,887. 

The Carolina Demography report showed enrollment was down for all grade levels across the state, except for grade 10, with the largest decline in kindergarten enrollment, with 14,282 fewer students. That was followed by fifth grade, 8,428 fewer students, and 11th grade, 7,859 fewer students. 

The pandemic brought learning loss, with many schools being unprepared to go to virtual when lockdowns occurred. Socialization suffered as children missed their friends, and the effects will be felt  for years to come. 

When children returned to the classroom, they were faced with mask mandates, wearing them for up to as many as eight hours in school and on a school bus. Parents and teachers have held rallies to end the mandates as the state, counties, and municipalities start to forgo them with a decline in COVID-19 cases. Ironically, two of the districts with the highest decline in enrollment, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County, are hanging on to their mask mandates the longest; March 7 being the date both districts will make masks optional.  

“School officials and staff routinely, and sometimes arrogantly, dismissed parental concerns about district responses to the pandemic,” said Terry Stoops, Director, Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation. “Faced with persistent contempt from those working within their assigned school districts, families naturally flocked to public charter, private, home, and hybrid school options. If districts continue to fail to engage parents in productive ways, that exodus will continue.” 

Parents have also become increasingly uncomfortable with subjects such as Critical Race Theory, which is taught to their children without the parents having a say.  

As a result, parents in North Carolina have started to homeschool their children, enrolled them in private schools, or charter schools, with more than 8,000 being enrolled during the fall of 2020. 

“People vote with their feet,” said Bob Luebke, senior fellow, Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “Parents feel jerked around by school closures, mask requirements, and ever-changing schedules. Politicized curricula, Critical Race Theory, and anti-parent school boards have also fueled the exodus and forced many parents to realize they need more educational options.”