RALEIGH — Lawmakers are revisiting last year’s Parents’ Bill of Rights bill that quickly passed the Senate but went no further after being referred to a House committee.
On Feb. 1, Co-chairs of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance) and Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) along with Sen. Lisa Barnes (R-Nash) held a press conference regarding the filing of Senate Bill 49, the Parents’ Bill of Rights. All three legislators are the main primary sponsors of the bill.
Lee gave opening remarks describing the “window into the classroom” parents had during the pandemic with remote learning.
“In some instances, we saw some really amazing things,” said Lee, praising teachers for being able to “turn on a dime” with instruction. “In other instances, we saw things as parents that caught us by surprise. Some information…some curriculum that caused us serious concerns.”
Lee went on to say that as the pandemic eased, parents remained concerned about their ability to direct the care and education of their children. As an example, he mentioned how parents began showing up at school board meetings to speak out.
“Parents want to be more involved in their children’s education. This bill strengthens the relationship between schools and parents to allow that to happen,” Lee said.
Galey also stated that the bill “provides parents a path to be more involved in their child’s education” and “It affirms their rights by actually enumerating them listed.”
Remarks given by lawmakers underscored that Senate Bill 49 protects the rights of parents to direct the education, care, and moral or religious upbringing of their child.
Galey also commented that “Parents do not surrender their children to government schools for indoctrination opposed to the family’s values.”
Senate Bill 49 seeks to increase transparency in a number of areas such as the well-being of students and curriculum. A new article would be established listing the following rights for parents:
- Direction of the child’s education, care, upbringing, and moral or religious training.
- Selection of qualifying schools to comply with compulsory attendance laws.
- Access and review student education records under FERPA.
- Make health care decisions, unless otherwise provided by law.
- Access and review medical records under HIPAA, unless the parent is the subject of a criminal or abuse and neglect investigation against the child and the investigator request the information not be released to the parent.
- Prohibit the creation, sharing, or storage of biometric scans, blood, or DNA without written consent, unless authorized by a court order or for a juvenile in custody of law enforcement.
- Prohibit the creation by a State, political subdivision, or public school unit of a video or voice recording without prior written consent, except in court proceedings, criminal or abuse and neglect investigations, safety demonstrations, academic or extracurricular activities, classroom instruction, photo identification cards, or security surveillance.
- Prompt notification if a State, political subdivision, or public school unit employee suspects a criminal offense has been committed against his or her child, unless reporting the incident would impede a criminal or child welfare investigation.
Part two of the bill enumerates 12 legal rights parents have under state law with regard to their child’s education and well-being, such as requiring parental consent for reproductive health education programs or surveys, opting out of data collection efforts, the right to seek medical or religious exemption from immunization requirements, and the right to inspect records, books or other materials.
The proposed legislation also would create a Parents’ Guide to Student Achievement which would include information on the educational progress of their student and how to help their child succeed.
The bill is similar but not identical to the Parents’ Bill of Rights (House Bill 755) that was filed during the 2021-22 legislative session. One key change is the expansion of barring gender identity and sexuality discussions or lessons from K-3 to K-4.
While the bulk of the bill focuses on parental rights with regard to their child, during the press conference media outlets only asked questions about the single provision that prohibits instruction on gender identity ideology, sexual activity, or sexuality from classroom discussions and curriculum for students in grades K-4.
One reporter asked where gender identity or sexual orientation was being taught to elementary students. Schools hiding a student attempting to change their name or “preferred pronoun” also came up.
Galey said there may be “some kind of shielding” by the school to keep parents in the dark. She referenced research she had done but cited no specific lesson examples, however, she briefly referenced Durham Public Schools.
In 2022, Durham Public Schools’ Board of Education approved a “Gender Support Policy” which in essence allows the school to hide sexual orientation and gender identity information about a student from parents on a “case-by-case basis.”
Another example that was not mentioned during the press conference arose late last May when a set of flashcards was confiscated from a preschool classroom in the district of Wake County. The cards featured gay and lesbian couples with children, as well as a card depicting a pregnant man.
Senate Bill 49 eventually received a positive report from the Education/Higher Education Committee. The bill is on a fast track to head to the House after already being quickly approved by both the Senate Committee on Health Care and the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate
During the Education/Higher Education meeting, the focus of some public comments by LGBT activists was again on the provision barring sexual discussions in K-4. Senate Democrats also spoke out in opposition, including Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Durham) who went as far as to cast the bill as “divisive.”
“I can’t understand why it would be controversial to say that children ages 5 to 9 years old should not be taught about sexuality or sexual activity in a public school classroom,” responded Gailey. “That blows my mind.”
The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), an affiliate of the National Education Association, issued a statement opposing protection of parental rights, instead focusing only on LGBT students.
“All are welcome. That is a core belief and tenet of our NC Public Schools. Instead, this bill tells portions of our community, especially those who are LGBTQ+, that they are not welcome,” NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in the statement.
Kelly dismissed the bill as unnecessary and also asserted the bill seeks to “undermine” parental trust in teachers.
The conservative-leaning John Locke Foundation and the NC Values Coalition both are backing the bill.
“We want the veil of secrecy to be lifted in public schools so parents can know what their children are being taught, and about any significant mental, emotional, or physical health changes,” NC Values Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald said in a statement. “In recent years, government bureaucrats and unions have pushed to exclude parents from the educational process, but parents are tired of the secrecy and are demanding their rights be restored.”
John Locke’s strategic projects and government affairs manager André Béliveau spoke in favor of the bill during a legislative committee meeting on Feb. 2, as well as being vocal about the bill on social media, tweeting in part that, “As a gay man who plans to have a family one day, I can tell you that I do not want my future children raised by the state.”