North Carolina General Assembly (Photo: Clayton Henkel)
The state House on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 49, the so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that requires educators to notify parents if a student uses a different name or pronoun.
SB 49 also requires school officials to notify parents about their child’s mental and physical health, obtain written consent from parents before a minor child receives medical treatment, and create remedies for parents to address concerns when they believe administrators are not following the law.
The bill would also require educators to encourage students to discuss issues related to a child’s well-being with parents and to help facilitate those discussions.
Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto the Republican-backed legislation when it arrives on his desk. All of Cooper’s previous vetoes this year have been overridden because Republicans have narrow supermajorities in both chambers. In this case, however, there was one Republican ‘no’ vote in the 66-47 final tally — Rep. Hugh Blackwell of Burke County. If Blackwell maintains his opposition and all Democrats were to vote against override, a veto could be sustained.
Following the vote, Democrats were angry that House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) didn’t allow debate or amendments.
“And there you have it,” tweeted Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham). “Speaker Tim Moore strong armed Dems into silence by prohibiting our amendments and our debate. As if the supermajority doesn’t already have enough power. Now censorship. This is not what democracy looks like.”
SB 49 was debated earlier Wednesday in the House Rules Committee where several speakers told the committee that the bill gives aid and comfort to bad parents, and urged them to vote against it.
“SB 49 only works for bad parents,” said Renee Sekel, a Wake County parent. “I had bad parents and the cardinal sin in my family was to tell — to tell that my mother’s nickname for me was devil’s spawn; that when she got mad that she’d take me by the hair, throw me on the floor and kick any part of my body that she could reach.”
That wasn’t the worst of it, Sekel said, explaining that when her dad got angry and took off his belt, “Oh God, you’d better run.”
Sekel said she did tell a tell a teacher — once — about an abuse that she suffered. The well-meaning teacher told her parents.
“I have spoken in this body about what happened to me [after the teacher told her parents],” Sekel said.
State Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake) said that SB 49 will lead to devastating consequences for LGBTQ students in abusive families.
“I am truly worried that these two paragraphs [requiring parental notification of pronoun changes] could be detrimental to education as we know it because we’re pitting the teachers against the students,” Dahle said.
Rep. Ashton Wheeler Clemmons (D-Alamance) added that encouraging students to discuss their mental and physical well-being with parents is the correct advice for most children.
Educators, however, remain the best option for children in abusive family situations, said Clemmons, a former teacher and principal.
“There are many children for whom school personnel are the safest, emotionally, mentally and physically safe adult they’re with on a day-to-day basis,” Clemmons said.
Educators are required to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities, noted Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance).
Galey defended SB 49, contending that there’s no policy against notifying parents if a child becomes pregnant, abuses drugs or engages in violent activities.
“Of all the problems that a child can have, this is the only area that people are pushing to keep the information from the parent,” Galey said. “I think that is questionable to say the very least.”
Galey said SB 49 grew out of parental concerns about school curricula parents saw during the pandemic when children were learning online. She said that educators were unresponsive when parents asked questions.
“I had that experience as a parent,” Galey said.
John Rustin, president of the conservative N.C. Family Policy Council, said SB 49 clarifies that parents’ care, control and custody of children does not end when the child enters a school building or health care facility.
“In fact, one of the greatest predictors of a child’s well-being and success, is parental involvement,” Rustin said. “Senate Bill 49 seeks to restore transparency and a sense of cooperation between their child’s school and health care provider.”
He said SB 49 doesn’t out LGBTQ youth to parents as critics contend.
“For a school to willfully withhold information is a breach of trust and a violation of the parents’ right to know,” Rustin said.
Equality NC Executive Director Kendra R. Johnson said lawmakers need to leave education matters to teachers and school administrators.
“Curriculum should be set by educators, not censored by politicians with partisan agendas,” Johnson said. “Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ bills harm the mental health of queer and trans youth. And with the prevalence of suicidal ideation trending upward among LGBTQ+ young people over the last three years, bills like SB49 have life or death consequences.”
Cameron Pruitt wondered why charter schools and private schools will not have to follow SB 49.
“If this bill and these rights are so important, why the carve outs? Pruitt asked. “Why don’t charter school and private school kids not get the same rights? Why are their parents being denied rights?”
Ellie Isley, a transgender woman, said she was lucky to have a high school teacher who cared about her well-being.
“My parents didn’t know I was trans until now,” Isley said. “They found out through the news because I was never going to tell them because of their views.”
Had SB 49 become law when she was in high school, Isley said it “probably would have killed me.”
“I don’t want that for children,” Isley said. “It’s not Ok.”
Also on Wednesday, the House gave final approval to House Bill 808 banning gender-affirming care for transgender for youth. Both measures are among a group introduced by Republicans this this year that critics contend unfairly target LGBTQ youth.
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