N.C. Parent’s Bill of Rights heads to first committee hearing

Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, chairs a Senate committee meeting. (Image from YouTube)

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  • Schools must tell parents about any changes in their child's physical or mental health.
  • Gender identity and sexual orientation may not be a part of official curriculum until after third grade.
  • Schools must tell parents if their child requests a change in their name or pronoun, if the parent asks.

A “Parent’s Bill of Rights” will get its first discussion in committee Wednesday morning in the N.C. Senate. Senate leaders in the N.C. General Assembly outlined the measure in a press conference on Tuesday evening, saying that it established a parent’s right to request information about what their child is learning in school, including lessons, textbooks, tutoring services, and other details about how their child and their school are operating. Schools would be required to develop a system for parents to access that information.

The measures were added to the House’s Academic Transparency bill from last session, and would require that parents are informed of any health care services their child is receiving, including telling a parent about any changes in their child’s physical or mental health, and whether their child requests a change in their name or pronouns.

“If my child asked a question about something like that, I think I would want to know about it,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in the press conference Tuesday. “And I think it would be incumbent upon the school to notify a parent that those are the kinds of inquiries that a child is making.”

The bill also directs that issues like gender identity and sexual orientation may not be a part of the official curriculum until after third grade. There would be no ban on incidental discussion of the topic in lower grades.

“There’s no attempt to squelch folks from talking about things,” Berger said. “There is a specific prohibition on it being a part of the curriculum in K through third grade.”

The push to strengthen parental rights in education through state statutes is happening in 26 other states, plus there is a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” in committee on Capitol Hill. North Carolina would join Arizona, Florida, and Georgia, where lawmakers have passed bills with similar language, according to a legislation tracking page.

The bill comes after the COVID-19 pandemic sparked outcry among parents of kids in K-12 education, as schools moved online and parents began to see first-hand instruction that troubled some. Scores of parents rebelled over public school closures, mask mandates, radical curriculum choices, controversial sexual theories in classrooms, and school board meetings closed to in-person attendance.

A recent Civitas poll found that 66% of likely voters say K-12 public education is headed in the wrong direction.

A Parents’ Bill of Rights proposed by the John Locke Foundation, which oversees Carolina Journal, has been proposed with information circulating to lawmakers over the last few weeks.

“Many parents feel increasingly powerless over what their children are being exposed to in the classroom,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of Locke’s Center for Effective Education. “These feelings have been exacerbated by an increasingly radicalized curriculum and pandemic-era policies. Parents must be empowered to make educational decisions for their children and should be able to expect full transparency from schools, teachers, and administrative staff.”

The measure could not only codify parental rights in public education, it could also be a big issue in the 2022 elections. Newly minted Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, walked to victory in November after running a campaign that tapped into parental anger and angst over public K-12 education.

The version of the bill in Florida has drawn the most national attention. That legislation, blasted by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would bar third parties from teaching students in kindergarten through 3rd grade on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to numerous other protections for parents’ autonomy over their children.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law March 28, saying in a statement that families “should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old.”

In April, Georgia lawmakers passed a measure stipulating that parents have the right to see the curriculum their children are learning. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign the measure into law.

In other states, a Parents’ Bill of Rights has met stiff resistance from Democrats and teachers’ unions. Also in April, Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that would have codified several parental rights in state law. Those include the right “to determine the names and pronouns used for the child while at school” and the right to “opt out of a class or instructional materials for reasons based on either religion or personal conviction.”

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, also a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill, while measures have also fallen prey to veto pens in states like Pennsylvania.

North Carolina’s Senate Bill 755, Academic Transparency/The Parent’s Bill of Rights, is expected to be discussed at 11 a.m. during the Senate Education Committee meeting chaired by Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, and Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.