After lying dormant for over four months, a Parents Bill of Rights is once again on the move in the North Carolina General Assembly.
On Wednesday, the House Education Committee passed Senate Bill 49 after a brief debate. Supporters say the measure is needed to protect children and ensure that parents have knowledge about what their kids are being taught in public schools. Opponents, on the other hand, claim the bill would create a discriminatory environment against LGBTQ youth.
S.B. 49 passed the Senate Feb. 7 in a party-line 29-18 vote. A similar bill passed both chambers last session but fell prey to Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto pen. The measure did not reemerge for a veto override vote, but veto-proof majorities in both chambers for the current legislative session have given the issue new life.
“We’re encouraged by the House’s action to approve H.B. 49,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “The bill goes a long way to not only strengthen parental rights in North Carolina, but it also gives parents who are seeking solutions to these issues a pathway forward. Those who support parental rights should be happy with the bill.”
The part of the bill that has drawn the most heated debate directs that issues like gender identity and sexual orientation may not be a part of the official curriculum until after fourth grade. There would be no ban on incidental discussion of the topic in lower grades, but official curriculum may not address those issues, under the bill.
More broadly speaking, the measure would affirm a set of parental rights, including the right to direct the education of their child and access to healthcare records. The measure also establishes a parent’s right to request information about what their child is learning in school, including lessons, textbooks, tutoring services, and other details about how their child and their school are operating.
Parents would additionally be informed of any health-care services their child receives, including any changes to their child’s physical or mental health, and whether their child requests a change in their name or pronouns.
“Nothing in this legislation would change the fact that a parent can’t abuse or neglect their child, or otherwise engage in unlawful conduct,” said Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance, in presenting the bill before the committee. “State employees, including state officials, still must work within their official capacity to work to protect the health and safety of children when there is suspicion of abuse or neglect of a child.”
Democrats took aim at the bill, claiming that it would put additional burdens on public school staff and for discourage students from reporting abuse.
“This bill is just overly broad,” said Rep. Julie Von Haefen, D-Wake. “The mandatory notification requirements before a student can receive counseling is going to have a chilling effect at a time when we have discussed in this committee so many times about how we’re all concerned about the mental health of our students. This is going to basically discourage them from disclosing that need for help.”
The measure now heads to the House Rules Committee.