On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the North Carolina Senate passed Senate Bill 49, the Parents' Bill of Rights in a 29-18 vote. The bill must now be heard on the state House's floor.
State Senate Republicans introduced S.B. 49 on Jan. 31.
The contentious bill outlines a set of rights parents should have over their children in public schools. These provisions include LGBTQ+ topics and require public schools to make policies to promote parent involvement in their child’s education.
State GOP filed a similar bill last summer. While the bill passed in the N.C. Senate, it wasn’t taken up in the N.C. House after amendments.
Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance, Randolph), one of the primary sponsors of the bill, said she supports it because parents have had challenges getting information from school systems.
“This bill is about a lot of things, but especially about access to curriculum, and knowledge about what services are available and what services are being used by the students," Galey said.
S.B. 49 would require all public schools to notify a student’s parents prior to any changes to a student's name or pronouns used in school.
Galey said this would promote communication between parents and students.
“If a person changes their pronouns or their name in school, and that's a public action, that's not a private action, that's a public action in the school, and there are going to be a lot of people who know about that in the school and in the community,” she said.
Galey said if a change in name or pronouns were kept a secret from the parents, it could be harmful to the student-parent relationship and prohibit the family from moving forward to figure out how to best support the child.
The bill also prohibits any instruction of gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality in the curriculum for students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
For educators, Galey said their private life should not be shared with students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, as it is not part of classroom instruction.
“If a student asked the teacher a question about their family life, their sexual preferences, the teacher should tell them, 'Mind your own business,'” she said.
In contrast, N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person), a former school social worker, said the bill will do more harm than good and would directly harm children.
“It's a stupid bill that's being run for purely political reasons,” Meyer said. “It does not understand how child development works and it is disrespectful to both families and to professional educators who are trying to support children and families.”
According to Meyer, the ability to teach young children is hostile to all educators, and the bill is based in fear and heteronormativity.
Meyer said children are naturally curious about identity and the way the world works. When they start asking those questions, he said educators are prepared to use books and curriculum materials that are age-appropriate to help teach kids in a way that answers their questions in an age-appropriate way.
“Taking away their ability to teach proactively and positively puts educators in a really negative position and doesn't respect the kids for what the kids want to learn and need to be able to learn,” Meyer said.
Rep. Allen Buansi (D-Orange) said he is prepared to vote against the bill when it is brought to the state House floor.
He said the bill undermines the safety of LBGTQ+ students as schools could be a safe space for them.
“What this bill purports to do, which is to essentially try to erase LGBTQ+ students from the school curriculum that sends the message that their identity still carries stigma and shame,” Buansi said.
In response to the Parents’ Bill of Rights, Democrats in the N.C. General Assembly introduced House Bill 58 — Parents’ and Students’ Bill of Rights — on Feb. 6.
The bill includes an outline of rights parents are given in a students’ healthcare, education and upbringing — along with students’ rights, including adequate resources for mental and physical health, college- and career-readiness and access to extracurriculars.
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