NC parents' bill that bars K-3 LGBTQ curriculum clears panel
Story updated at 12:27 p.m. on May 26.
A Republican measure supporters say would empower North Carolina parents to better monitor their children's public school education — and also would bar K-3 class curriculum from addressing LGBTQ issues — received approval Wednesday from a state Senate committee.
The bill, which wades into other contentious issues around pronouns for children and their medical treatment without parental consent, received criticism from some who said GOP colleagues are wrongly interfering in the classroom. They said the measure contained items reminiscent of a recently approved Florida law that critics have dubbed the “Don't Say Gay” bill.
Senate Republicans disagreed, saying the prohibition of instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in curriculum for kindergarten through third grade is more narrowly tailored than the Florida law. And they say it would allow passing mention of a teacher or parent's same-sex relationship, for example.
“This is about not teaching 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds things that are not age appropriate," said Sen. Michael Lee, a New Hanover County Republican and a Senate education committee co-chairman. “This bill ... has no censorship in it at all.”
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, whose vetoes can be upheld if enough lawmakers from his party remain united, told legislators to "keep the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ culture wars out of North Carolina classrooms.” He also referred to House Bill 2, a 2016 law signed by GOP Gov. Pat McCrory addressing bathroom use by transgender people that costs the state sporting events and billions of dollars.
“Schools are grateful for involved parents and we need even more of them working together with teachers to educate our children,” Cooper said in a prepared statement. “However, the last thing our state needs is another Republican political ploy like the bathroom bill which hurt our people and cost us jobs.” Cooper vetoed a Republican bill last year that would have limited how public school teachers can discuss certain racial concepts.
Republicans said the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” is largely a response to parents whose frustrations grew during the COVID-19 pandemic as their children learned from home. Scenes from school board meetings of adults complaining about books and instruction have been common.
“They broke our trust,” Pat Blackburn with the advocacy group Moms of Liberty, told senators. “Efforts by parents to ask that their children be protected from harmful, inappropriate content has also been met with hostility ... this bill is a start."
The measure would broaden the rights parents already have in state and federal laws. Additional rights would include the ability to make health care decisions for their children and to be notified if a government agency suspects a crime has been committed against the child.
Parents would be provided from schools a “guide to student achievement” at the start of each school year and notice of how they can obtain information. Local school boards would be required to adopt procedures that notify a parent when school staff notices changes to a child’s “mental, emotional or physical health or well-being,” or before a child’s name or pronoun is changed in school records. School districts would be required to create complaint and appeal processes for parents.
Some Democratic senators and public speakers addressing the committee said the legislation was not necessary or an effort to create division between parents and teachers.
“It does not honor that many of our students come from diverse families or that our teachers come from diverse families, and that teachers should be able to help our students recognize the humanity in one another, to treat each other with dignity and respect,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
The bill also would subject health care providers to disciplinary action by licensing boards should they fail to receive parental consent for non-urgent medical treatments for a minor child, including fines of up to $5,000.
The measure next goes to another Senate committee. House Speaker Tim Moore, whose chamber would receive the bill if it passes the Senate, said later Wednesday he had not yet read the bill but believed “parents have a right to know what's happening. There needs to be transparency.”
North Carolina Senate Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a wide-ranging proposal they say would help parents stay informed about what their children are being taught and how they're being treated by doctors. The measure also would tread into contentious LGBTQ matters that have caused divisive debate elsewhere.
The “Parents' Bill of Rights” legislation would bar public school curriculum for kindergarten through third grade from containing instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. Republicans contend the prohibition is more limited than a new Florida law that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which has received intense scrutiny nationally from critics who argue it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
And throughout K-12 schools, local school boards would be required to adopt procedures that notify a parent when school staff notices changes to a child's “mental, emotional or physical health or well-being," or before a child's name or pronoun is changed in school records.
Separately, the bill also would subject health care providers to disciplinary action by licensing boards should they fail to receive parental consent for non-urgent medical treatments for a minor child, including fines of up to $5,000.
With kids participating in online classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic, parents “got an up-close look at what their children were being taught. It opened their eyes in a lot of ways,” Senate leader Phil Berger said.
“The bill is about increasing transparency and trust in our public schools,” Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said at a news conference.
The measure, to be heard in an education committee on Wednesday, would have to clear both the House and Senate before going to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Berger and Sen. Deanna Ballard, who is helping shepherd the bill, said they hadn't spoken to Senate Democrats about the measure. But some Democratic support would be needed if Cooper vetoed the bill.
The measure would broaden the rights that parents already have in state and federal laws. Additional rights would include the ability to make health care decisions for their children and to be notified if a government agency suspects a crime has been committed against the child. The proposed rights would be in state law, not in the state constitution.
For schools, parents would have additional legal rights and be provided a “guide to student achievement” at the start of each school year. Parents would have to be informed that they can review textbooks and instructional materials, request that their child be evaluated for gifted programs and review standardize test results.
“Greater participation from our parents really does lead to a better quality of life for our students,” said Ballard, a Watauga County Republican. “When parents are excluded from critical decisions affecting their child’s health and well-being at school, it really sends a message to children that parents' input and authority is really no longer important.”
Berger said the provision addressing the K-3 classroom instruction is different from Florida's law because the Senate's proposal would only ban content on sexual orientation and gender identity from actual curriculum.
Language in the Florida law says "classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Berger said the North Carolina law would not prevent a K-3 teacher from responding to a child's LGBTQ-related questions. But he said it would make sense for a school to alert the child's parent about such questions.
Parents who have complaints about the K-3 curriculum or don't feel properly notified about their child's physical and mental health could ultimately seek intervention from the State Board of Education or go to court to seek an injunction.