A bill passed through the North Carolina House Education Committee on March 28 would require public schools to offer character education in all grade levels in public schools. The intent of the program is to reduce bullying and harassment behavior.

House Bill 253, Prevent Students From Harm Act, ensures that schools offer “high-quality character education and that it is presented at all grade levels, that this is something that’s not put on the back burner,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes.

The bill instructs that school systems “shall” administer character education, rather than leaving it as an optional recommendation.

The bill would also free up local school districts to work with nonprofits with at least a decade of experience in sexual abuse and human trafficking work. Another section would revise the health curriculum to implement strategies for suicide prevention and to reduce abuse and neglect.

“In all of my years of teaching and especially working with smaller children, many times there can be situations where they are suffering from abuse, but they don’t really understand that it is abuse,” said Elmore.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, raised concerns about parental rights in the bill.

“Do you think the parent is protected over the oversight of their child in this or do you think the school system has ability to instruct children on things without the option for a parent to either opt in or opt out?” Torbett asked.

“I don’t see this as an overreach of the parents’ rights on any of these types of materials,” Elmore responded. “All of this is current statute. It’s just expanding [the law] … I don’t see this as an expansion to violate a parents’ rights.”

H.B. 253 now heads to the House Rules Committee.