Rep. Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg)
State Republicans continued to ram through a conservative public education agenda on Wednesday by breathing new life into the so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that would prohibit instruction of gender identity, sexual activity and sexuality in grades K-4.
Senate Bill 49 requires school officials to notify parents before changes in a student’s name or pronouns are used in school records or by school personnel. It is expected to become law because Republicans have the votes to override a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Schools would be required 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.
Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, said SB 49 grew out of parental concerns about school curriculums parents saw during the pandemic when children were learning online.
“Unfortunately, too often the case when parents approached school officials with concerns about curriculum or other matters, they’ve [parents] felt like they got the stiff arm from school administration,” Galey said.
Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, asked if there are punitive measures for school officials or “bad actors” who do not follow the rules.
“Say someone speaks out in open defiance to some of the things that we’re putting in place; is there any action that can be taken and if so, where does that action come from?” Torbett asked.
Galey said districts could discipline educators but the purpose behind the bill is to inform parents about their rights.
She noted that some schools boards openly defy school calendar laws and district attorneys don’t prosecute certain crimes because they disagree with them.
“I think what you ask is a really good question, what are we going to do about elected officials across this state who essentially would turn their back on their oath of office and not do their job,” Galey said. “I think that’s an important thing for our state and country to wrestle with and I think that they should be held accountable.”
Rep. Julie von Haefen, a Wake County Democrat, said the requirement that parents are notified before students can receive counseling will have a chilling effect at a time when the mental health of children is a top concern. The bill makes exceptions for children who are abused or neglected.
“This bill really ignores the reality of what goes on in schools when it comes to how children go to their teachers, how they go to their counselors and express that they’e having issues whether it’s a home, whether it’s with their peers,” von Haefen said.
Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat, asked why the bill doesn’t include private schools, which receive state money through the Opportunity Scholarship program.
“We give all this taxpayer money we’re offering to private schools when they have little if any educational mandates, but we’re taking away principals and teachers from the job of teaching to make sure they’re following all these administrative responsibilities,” Morey said.
Parents already have most of the rights included in the bill, Morey said.
“I think what people in this state want is to look at is how do we improve public education, how do we pay our teachers and our principals, how do we get early childhood [education], how do we get safe schools,” Morey said.
The N.C. House K-12 Education Committee SB 49 a favorable hearing and re-referred it to the rules committee. A voice vote was taken before several members of the public got a chance to speak. Rep. Tricia Cotham, who co-chairs the education committee said there wasn’t time to hear from the public.
“Ladies and gentlemen this committee is over,” Cotham told members of the audience who were shouting to be heard.
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