State Democrats went on the offense Tuesday, countering controversial Senate Bill 49 (SB 49), a Republican-backed Parents Bill of Rights modeled after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, with versions of their own.
House Bill 58 and Senate Bill 74, titled “Parents’ and Students’ Bill of Rights” were filed on Monday. The bills, which are the same, spell out 10 parental rights around minor children’s “upbringing, education, healthcare and mental health.”
The bills also list 14 student rights, which include a “learning environment in which discrimination in all forms is not tolerated by the public school unit or school administration, school police or security personnel, or students.”
Students are also entitled to a school where they feel safe and comfortable with “sufficient protections and resources,” including physical and mental protections for students and staff, the bill states.
The Republican-backed SB 49 would require schools to tell parents if their children want to use different pronouns at school and prohibit instruction on gender identity, sexuality, and sexual activity in kindergarten through fourth grade.
“Parents do not surrender their children to government schools for indoctrination opposed to the family’s values,” Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and one of the bill’s main sponsors, said during a press conference last week.
At a press conference Tuesday, State Sen. Michael Garrett, (D-Guilford), said Republican lawmakers are fanning the flames of an incendiary culture war at the expense of students’ well-being.
“Instead of respecting and empowering parents, this bill seeks to turn parents and teachers against each other,” Garrett said.
State Rep. Vernetta Alston, (D-Durham), said the two bills support parents’ ability to nurture and protect their children.
“Like so many parents, my number one priority in life is the health, safety and well-being of my children,” Alston said. “Instead, my Senate colleagues are debating bills like Senate Bill 49…a bill that will harm our students, especially our LGBTQ students who will only be more vulnerable and more isolated at school if Senate Bill 49 passes.”
Alston is a primary sponsor of HB 58, along with Democrats Allison Dahle, Rosa Gill and Terrence Everitt, all of Wake County. Meanwhile, Garrett and Democratic senators Sydney Batch of Wake County and Rachel Hunt of Mecklenburg County, are primary sponsors of SB 74.
Nakeia Alsup, a former school social worker, said schools must remain safe havens for students.
“For some, school is one of the few places where [students] feel safe, where they feel like they have an extended network of adults that have their best interest at heart, where they can truly be themselves and ask needed questions and get needed help,” Alsup said.
Press conference participants noted an NC Department of Health and Human Services report that shows a 46% increase in North Carolina youth reporting a depressive episode since the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly three years ago. One in five high school students seriously contemplated suicide last year and one in two LGBTQ students considered taking their own life, the report said.
“The last few years have been tough on everyone, especially students,” said Jennie Bryan, the 2021 Southeast Regional Teacher of the Year. “We say our students are resilient…but at what cost?”
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