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Senate education committee passes “Parents’ Bill of Rights” legislation

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  • A Senate education committee passed what Republicans are calling a “Parents' Bill of Rights,” but opponents are concerned about some of the provisions, including one that prohibits instruction on LGBTQ issues.
  • “(Parents) are worried about things that they have seen and things that are happening in the public schools, and this is an effort by legislators to address those issues. Nothing more. Nothing less," said Senate President Pro Tempore @SenatorBerger on HB 755.

Update, 11:28 a.m. on Thursday: On Thursday, the Senate health care committee gave a favorable report to the bill, which will now go to the Rules Committee before a floor vote by full Senate. Some committee members dissented, but there was no roll call for the vote. The vast majority of public speakers opposed the bill during that meeting.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will likely veto the bill if it passes the legislature, and Republicans don’t have the numbers to override.

“Schools are grateful for involved parents, and we need even more of them working together with teachers to educate our children,” Cooper said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “However, the last thing our state needs is another Republican political ploy like the bathroom bill which hurt our people and cost us jobs, so let’s keep the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ culture wars out of North Carolina classrooms.”

A Senate education committee passed House Bill 755, titled “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” Wednesday, which would ban the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues in grades K-3, allow parents to review materials used in class, and establish a process for parents to object to those materials, among other things.

The provision related to the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues states “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity shall not be included in the curriculum provided in grades kindergarten through third grade.”

“(Parents) are worried about things that they have seen and things that are happening in the public schools, and this is an effort by legislators to address those issues. Nothing more. Nothing less,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a press conference Tuesday.

He said that remote learning during the pandemic gave parents a unique window into what was happening in schools and sparked some of the concerns that school boards around the state are hearing from some parents — which this bill attempts to address.

But he also said that this legislation wouldn’t prevent a teacher talking to students about LGBTQ+ issues if the students brought them up. However, he said that if a student was asking about such topics, the teacher should tell parents about it if they ask.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger speaks at a press conference on the Parents’ Bill of Rights while surrounded by Senate Republicans on May 24, 2022. Rupen Fofaria/EducationNC

The specific rights are outlined in the bill as follows:

Other parts of HB 755 expand on these rights with different provisions, including one that would allow parents to review materials used in class and establish a process for them to object to instructional materials or textbooks.

The legislation also says that parents must be alerted about matters relating to their children’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,” and that before changing the pronoun of a student, the parent be notified of the change. That is for students in any grade. Berger was asked whether he was concerned about the bill outing transgender students to parents.

“Parents have a right to know those things,” he said. “You’re talking about minor children and their parents.”

During the public comment portion of the committee meeting Wednesday, a member of the public pleaded with committee members not to move forward with this portion of the bill as she worried it could lead to child abuse.

You can read the full contents of the bill here.

Bill sponsor Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, was asked about similarities between the provisions in this bill that allow parents to find out about the instructional materials being used in classes and a bill during the long session that would have required schools to make available to the public information about such materials.

That bill — titled “Academic Transparency” — was the shell that Senate Republicans used to ferry HB 755. Because the bill doesn’t concern finance or budgetary matters and wasn’t up for consideration during the long session, it is not able to be considered during the short session. However, by deleting the contents of the Academic Transparency bill and replacing them with the new bill, Senate Republicans were able to bring these new policies up now.

Ballard said that HB 755 is a totally new bill and doesn’t require districts to proactively provide information on teaching materials.

“At this point, we’re putting the onus on the parent to ask for that information,” she said during the press conference Tuesday.

The bill follows moves by other states to institute legislation with similar titles and contents. One of the more controversial ones was the Florida bill opponents dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” But it said classroom discussion on LGBTQ+ issues “may not occur,” rather than forbidding its inclusion in curriculum as the North Carolina legislation does.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, asked during the debate in committee Wednesday whether the bill would signal to those outside the state that North Carolina is not friendly to LGBTQ+ people. He also said that it wasn’t all that different from the Florida bill.

“Arguably the spirit of the bill remains the same,” he said.

He went on to bring up the school shooting in Texas Tuesday, which left 19 children dead.

“The right that I really care about at the moment is the right to keep kids safe in schools,” he said.

Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, a co-chair of the committee, said Chaudhuri was just using the tragedy in Texas for politics.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, said that parents do have rights and that most of them are already written into law. She asked Ballard if she had considered giving parents the right to make themselves monitors at schools in order to help keep their children safe.

“I did that as a parent, and I would think that parents want to ensure the safety of their kids,” she said.

Ballard said parents can do that if they want and that this bill is simply informing parents of the opportunities they have to participate in a school community.

Members of the public were able to comment during the committee meeting Wednesday. Parents and advocates on both sides of the issue spoke, as did North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly, who questioned the purpose of the legislation, saying it does nothing to address the real issues facing education today.

“This bill attempts to undermine what we know is already true,” she said. “That parents trust their child’s public school, and they trust their child’s public school teacher.”

The Senate bill also follows a call by the conservative John Locke Foundation to institute such legislation. The bill passed by the committee, however, doesn’t follow all the suggestions of the bill proposed by the John Locke Foundation. For instance, the John Locke Foundation suggested a change to the funding system of public school systems to have money follow students rather than be dispersed using the current allotment system.

The bill goes to a Senate health care committee next.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.