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State Board of Education weighs how to implement the 'Parents' Bill of Rights'

A blurred image of schoolchildren walking down a school hallway in single file.
Matt Ramey
/
For WUNC
The State Board of Education discussed a policy Wednesday for how it will hear appeals from family members who believe their local school district violated the law.

Now that the Parents' Bill of Rights has become law, the State Board of Education and schools are tasked with figuring out how to implement it.

The State Board of Education discussed a policy Wednesday for how it will hear appeals from family members who believe their local school district violated the law.

If a parent believes their school violates any part of the law, they can file a formal complaint to their local school board. If the issue is not resolved to the family's satisfaction within 30 days, they can appeal only certain violations to the State Board of Education.

“It's important to note, I think, that there's no enforcement section,” said the State Board Vice Chair Alan Duncan.

The board's attorney Allison Schafer confirmed that the State Board can identify a violation, but the law does not provide consequences for a violation beyond a hearing. She said her staff “did raise that with the General Assembly,” but that legislators did not put an enforcement provision in the law.

What The Parents' Bill of Rights requires

The law requires schools to notify parents about their right to consent to a long list of issues related to their child's health or well-being: from giving approval before their child receives mental health counseling to filling out a permission slip before they take a health survey.

Some of the requirements have long been standard practice in schools, educators say. Other new — and highly debated — requirements are centered on issues of gender.

The law prohibits schools from providing instruction on gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality in kindergarten through third grade, without defining what topics might violate this.

The provision that has stirred the most controversy requires parent notification if a child changes their name or pronoun at school. Critics say this could endanger some transgender children whose parents might mistreat them.

The law does include an exception for “when a reasonably prudent person” would believe that disclosure would result in the child being abused or neglected.

NC Teacher of the Year Kimberly Jones, who serves as an adviser to the State Board, asked at the board meeting whether public schools will receive more guidance on how this provision is defined.

“I think as a classroom teacher, that’s a concern,” Jones said.

Board attorney Allison Schafer responded that school districts could consult their own attorneys on specific cases, but that it might be defined by whether the school has ever notified social services of potential abuse or neglect of a child.

Parents can only appeal certain offenses beyond the local school board

Schafer emphasized that only a limited list of issues can be appealed to the State Board of Education.

“We're already getting requests to appeal books in the library and things like that, and that's not in this list,” Schafer said.

Challenges to library books must be taken up at the local level, but a school’s failure to notify parents of a child's name change in school records can be appealed to the State Board. Violations that are eligible for appeal are listed in the State Board’s proposed policy, which it will vote on next month.

Schools must begin implementing the Parents' Bill of Rights in January.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org
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