Senate Education Committee approves ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’

A Marine color guard marches into the Senate chamber during the opening session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly’s Senate Education Committee approved a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” which was first unveiled the day before at a press conference led by Senate Leader Berger (R-Eden) along with Education Committee Chairs Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) and Michael Lee (R-New Hanover). 

The committee approved the bill with no Democrats voting in favor of the measure.  

Senate Democrats seem to be at odds with public opinion, as evidenced by a North Carolina-specific poll taken earlier this month showing 74% in favor of parents being allowed to review curriculum and that schools should notify parents about the mental and physical health of their children. 

During that meeting, state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) attempted to connect the bill to the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 

“As a parent, the right I really care about is the right to keep our children safe in schools. As a parent, I would hope that we wouldn’t debate a bill that seeks to restrict what’s taught to elementary school students but instead determine how we can protect these very elementary school students from school shootings,” said Chaudhuri.” Censoring school curriculums isn’t going to keep our kids alive.”

Lee called Chaudhuri out for trying to use a tragedy to attack an unrelated bill. 

“We all feel for the folks in Texas, but you’re using this as a political platform to take advantage of a tragedy in Texas is not going to be before this committee,” responded Lee. “There is nothing in here that relates to that.” 

Lee continued, “If you recall in the budget process last year, we passed five pages dealing with school safety and threat assessments. No speakers here should try to take advantage of a tragedy that occurred for some political gain.” 

This was not the first attempt to conflate the Texas school shooting with the bill. 

The same day as the committee vote, Governor Roy Cooper also used the Texas shooting for political purposes in a video calling for more gun control. 

During the press conference unveiling the legislation, a reporter attempting to link the bill to the recent school shooting in Texas. 

“This has nothing to do with what happened in Texas. I think it’s interesting that somebody would even try to connect the two things,” Berger told the reporter. “This is an issue that parents all across the state have been concerned about. They’re showing up at school board meetings. They’re talking to their legislators. They are worried about things they have seen, and things that are happening in the public schools.” 

According to the bill language, the measure seeks to increase curriculum and materials transparency by school districts as well as notify parents regarding the mental health and physical well-being of their child. 

The bill would require schools to provide parents with information related to parental involvement in schools, legal rights for their child’s education, and guides for student achievement. It also includes processes to be put in place for materials requests along with specific time frames for responses and possible legal recourse related to a school not complying with a request. 

The bill also blocks age-inappropriate instruction on the topics of sexuality and gender identity for young children in grades K-3 but does not bar discussion if a child asks a question. 

Senate Democrats appeared to defend teaching those topics in grade K-3, tweeting “By banning age-appropriate discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, we are sending a message to students that this is taboo or something to be feared. It is not.” 

Initial statements from LGBT activist groups in North Carolina claimed the bill will “target” LGBT youth and claimed was another “don’t say gay” bill. Similarly, N.C. Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly called it “an attempt to divide parents and teachers for political gain and distract from the real issues” and blamed lack of school funding. 

On May 26, state Sens. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro), Sydney Batch (D-Wake) and Toby Fitch (D-Halifax) filed their own version of a Parents’ Bill of Rights. The body of Senate Bill 680 is a list of just 10 items mostly drawn from the Republican bill but includes no transparency measures.  

In a statement to news outlet WGHP, Garrett said the Democrat bill is “North Carolina’s homegrown Parents’ Bill of Rights.” 

Garrett then went on to compare the Republican bill to a “classroom edition” of HB2, which caused controversy by blocking a Charlotte City ordinance that would have allowed men to use women’s locker rooms and bathrooms. 

“Unlike the other proposal in the Senate, our proposal isn’t imported from another state and forced on our parents and students,” Garrett told WGHP. “Unfortunately, the other proposal circulated by Senate Republican Leadership is HB2, classroom edition. North Carolinians know too well the cost of state sanctioned bigotry.”