Commentary

Veteran schoolteacher: Why can’t students use preferred names like NC lawmakers do?

July 3, 2023 11:30 am
a name tag reads "Hello my name is - Pending Parent Permission" What's yours?

Image courtesy of Kim Mackey

A bill making its way through the NC General Assembly seeks in part to make the first day of school more nerve-racking by requiring parent notification before a school staff member may address a student by any altered name.

From SB 49 “Parents’ Bill of Rights”

My student rosters after Day 1 are full of revisions as I seek to show the most basic level of respect to my students: addressing them by their preferred name and pronouncing it correctly.

The NC State Board of Elections candidate filing document is also full of revised names to appear on ballots.

In fact, 83% of current NC General Assembly members who have now or in the past supported a so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights” have modified their legal names to appear differently on general election ballots.

The names highlighted below indicate Senators sponsoring the bill who have modified the way their legal names appear on the ballot:

Here’s a full list of Senators who alter their ballot names but voted in favor of the bill denying students the dignity to use their preferred names without bureaucracy:

Sens. Berger and Craven acknowledge their legal name modification in their preferred ballot names:

Sens. Alexander and B. Newton did not:

To be clear: if instead of being Senators these folks were students in my classroom, I would of course call them “Buck” and “Ted” as requested. I just wish Sens. Jim, Bobby, Buck, Bill, Brent, Jim, Tom, Phil, Dave, Steve, Todd, Vickie, Brad, Ted, Dean and Tim would offer students the same courtesy instead of making it a potential legal affront to the full names given to them by their parents.

Last year when Allison* (name changed for privacy) asked me to call her “Allie” in class but refer to her as “Allison” when communicating with her parents, I respected the request. According to SB 49 as written, I could be violating the law by stepping on her parents’ rights if I do this in the future without seeking their permission.

Last week, the bill was discussed in a House committee. During the meeting, proponents of the bill claimed the bill is necessary to keep parents informed and avoid a district “stiff-arming” parents when information is requested.

Ironically, that same House committee meeting did not allow public comment on that bill despite a commitment for 10 speakers, and apparent 18 minutes that would have been available if the meeting started on time, and was not adjourned early.

The chair of that committee also imposes a double standard on students with her own candidate filing record:

Is one’s preferred name an affront to the full legal name given to them by their parents?  If party labels are the pronouns of politics, it’s also notable she changed her party affiliation to “Republican” earlier this year after running as a “Democrat” last year.

Two years ago, a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” was voted on by the House.  Those voting in favor can be found below.  Many of those members who voted to approve it are still in office.  19 of them used preferred names as ballot names after voting to deny students the same courtesy.  They’re set to do it again this year.

House Speaker Moore, bill sponsor Rep. Hardister and co-sponsor Rep. Clampitt prefer modifications of their legal names as their ballot names:

Rep. White prefers to change her legal middle name altogether:

When a student asks me to call him “Trey” though I don’t see that listed as a form of his legal first or middle name, I call him Trey.

If Sarah Jane Smith asks me to call her Jane, I say “Nice to meet you, Jane.”

When a student whose family has new roots in our country asks me to use an “English” name instead of their legal name, I honor their request.

I don’t follow up with Chris, Alex, or Cam to see if their request for the diminutive version of their full names has anything to do with a potential change in pronoun preference.

If SB 49 becomes law, these straightforward Day 1 interactions would become more complex because they could be seen as keeping secrets from parents if I amend names on my roster without prior permission from each student’s parent.

What do lawmakers voting in favor of this bill suggest I call these students while awaiting confirmation from their parents?

This bill treats kids as property, not as people. It harms a necessary rapport between school staff, parents and students in the first stage of building that partnership by demeaning a preferred name or family nickname with bureaucratic hurdles before school staff may use it.

I have no issue with candidates using their preferred names on the ballot. I have an issue with politicians hypocritically picking on kids by creating obstacles for use of their preferred names.

As Rep. Cotham said at the end of the House K-12 Education committee meeting, “There are rules of this body that apply to everyone in here, including you.”

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Kim Mackey
Kim Mackey

Kim Mackey is a veteran Wake County public school teacher who comments on public policy at the website educatED Policy, where this commentary was first published.

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