RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Saying her new bill was about transparency, communication and age-appropriate curriculum, state Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance) introduced the latest version of the so-called “parents bill of rights” in the North Carolina General Assembly, giving lawmakers another shot at a bill that last spring was passed by the Senate but ignored by the House.

State Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance) introduces SB 49. (NCGA)

This bill – Senate Bill 49 – was approved Wednesday in the opening meeting of the Education/Higher Education Committee. It is sponsored by Galey, Chair Mike Lee (R-New Hanover) and Sen. Lisa Barnes (R-Franklin), and Galey and Lee appeared at a press conference before the committee meeting.

“State employees including school personnel must not keep secrets about students from their parents,” Galey said at the press conference. “Parents have rights that we do not give up when we send our children to public-run schools. Parents are not afterthoughts. … Parents are charged with raising their children as they see fit, not in the way parents or other school employees see fit.

“The government is not a partner in raising our children.”

The new bill, which is titled “An Act to Enumerate the Rights of Parents to Direct the Upbringing, Education, Health Care and Mental Health of their Minor Children,” includes bans on curriculum about gender identity, sexual activity and sexuality in Grades K-4, specifies “age-appropriate discussion,” how schools should handle when a student changes a preferred pronoun and requires schools to make textbooks and other materials available for parents to review.

“Parents want to be more involved in their students’ education,” Lee said. “This bill strengthens that. … It increases transparency and trust. … It empowers parents with information, knowledge.”

Galey and Lee both stressed that the bill was not about “don’t say gay” and does not get into the issue of sexual orientation other than the pronoun reference as a point to be communicated. The broader term of “sexual activity” was employed to remove gender issues.

The bill was passed out of committee on a voice vote and was sent to the Senate Health Committee for its consideration on a path that Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) has suggested is moving fast.

This bill’s specifics are slightly different from House Bill 755, which the Senate passed last spring. Even though that bill was an augmented version of a bill introduced into the House, Speaker Tim Moore decided not to take it up during the short session, because he was concerned it would be vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

That likely would happen with SB 49 as well, but the Senate now has a supermajority of Republicans, the House is one vote shy of a supermajority, and Moore recently changed rules that might allow him to call a veto-override vote without notice.

Lots of comments

Members of the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee discuss the “Parents Bill of Rights” during Sen. Amy Galey’s presentation. (NCGA)

Committee members heavily grilled Galey, with several Democrats speaking against it, and a litany of about a dozen speakers from the public, most of whom spoke against the bill. A notable exception was a speaker from the conservative John Locke Foundation who noted the bill’s needed transparency.

Among those speakers also was North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly, who later released her statement read at the meeting, in which she said most of the law’s provisions address “rights parents already have or changes already codified into North Carolina law. This bill attempts to undermine what we know to be true: that parents trust their child’s public school and their child’s teachers. At the end of the day, this Parents’ Bill of Rights does nothing to address the very real issues facing our state’s education system.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who presides over the Senate said in a statement issued by his office that parents “have felt ignored by bureaucrats. Now is the time for us to step up and ensure their voices are heard, and this bill does exactly that. … Parents have led the way, and it is time we have their backs.”

In response to questions during both the press conference and committee meeting about why this bill was required to address curriculum that does not exist and communication problems that most don’t observe, Galey cited “anecdotal evidence,” “people in the Apex area” and a video she had seen on Twitter as being examples of issues across this the state of the issue being a problem across North Carolina. She did not specify a district where there was inappropriate curriculum. She did discuss how the bill would address the responsibilities of teachers, the time limitations of teachers and how they were asked to be “social workers.”

“If a child is having physical or mental issues, parents need to know,” she said. “Teachers aren’t qualified. Relationships between students and teachers are not confidential and should not be. Teachers aren’t trained for counseling.

“Parents tell students not to keep secrets.” When schools say otherwise, “they undermine that relationship.”

“Sexual activity and orientation have no place in K-4 classrooms. That’s for parents alone. Leave adult issues out of K-4 curriculum.”

Why is this bill first?

Galey also was questioned by both reporters and her colleagues about why this is the first school-related bill to be introduced, given the state’s difficulty in finding and retaining educators and other funding questions for schools.

“It is a priority, not the first priority,” she said in both meetings. “The budget discussion is underway … We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can be concerned about more than one thing.”

She said she has not talked to Democrats about the bill but would be open to ideas. She heard from quite a few of them during the committee meeting.

State Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro, center) questions Galey about the bill. (NCGA)

Sen. Michal Garrett (D-Greensboro), who last spring filed a counter bill that he said emerged from discussions with parents, was one of them, suggesting this bill was not a priority and that it addressed issues that weren’t needed.

He referred to it as a “cut-and-paste” of last year’s bill – an assertion that Lee pushed back against – and that he was concerned the bill negatively would affect the business community, as some have suggested it could. He, too, wanted to understand why this was the first bill out of the gate in the committee.

“As someone with two children in school … I’m actively engaged,” Garrett said. “I don’t think anyone in this room is saying parental involvement is a bad thing or wrong. … For decades we’ve been trying to get parents involved. This is not what we did.”

Galey suggested that Garrett’s position in the General Assembly and on this committee – it’s his first term on the committee, Garrett said – “smoothed some wrinkles with access that most parents don’t have. … Some schools stiff-arm parents. The administration ignores people. They don’t return phone calls.

“Maybe in Guilford County you have unusually responsive administrators to parents. Unfortunately, that’s not the case around the state.”

State Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) suggested that the bill is “divisive” and asked for evidence that it was necessary.

“It baffles me that this bill would be ‘divisive,’” Galey said. “I can’t understand why it would controversial.

“We have government-run schools … compulsory attendance … When the government acts, citizens have due process rights. … That should not be left behind in the station wagon or minivan when we drop off our children at school.

“I can’t understand why this would be controversial. Gay parents and straight parents want the same things: What’s best for our children.”

What’s in the new bill

The new bill states specifically that parents have the right:

  1. To direct the education and care of his or her child.
  2. To direct the upbringing and moral or religious training of his or her child.
  3. To enroll his or her child in a public or nonpublic school and in any school choice options available to the parent for which the child is otherwise eligible by law in order to comply with compulsory attendance laws, as provided in Part 1 of Article 26 of this Chapter.
  4. To access and review all education records, as authorized by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act … relating to his 33 or her child.
  5. To make health care decisions for his or her child, unless otherwise provided by law, including Article 1A of Chapter 90 of the General Statutes.
  6. To access and review all medical records of his or her child, as authorized by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 as amended, except as follows: If the parent is the subject of an investigation of (i) a crime committed against the child under Chapter 14 of the General Statutes or (ii) an abuse and neglect complaint under Chapter 7B of the General Statutes and an individual authorized to conduct that investigation requests that the information not be released to the parent. b. When otherwise prohibited by law.
  7. To prohibit the creation, sharing, or storage of a biometric scan of his or her child without the parent’s prior written consent, except as authorized pursuant to a court order or otherwise required by law.
  8. To prohibit the creation, sharing, or storage of his or her child’s blood or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) without the parent’s prior written consent, except as authorized pursuant to a court order or otherwise required by law.
  9. To prohibit the creation by the State of a video or voice recording of his or her child without the parent’s prior written consent, except a recording made in the following circumstances: (a) During or as part of a court proceeding. (b) As part of an investigation under Chapter 7B or Chapter 14 of the General Statutes. (c) When the recording will be used solely for any of the following purposes: 1. A safety demonstration, including one related to security and discipline on educational property. 2. An academic or extracurricular activity. 3. Classroom instruction. 4. Photo identification cards. 5. Security or surveillance of buildings or grounds.
  10. To be promptly notified if an employee of the State suspects that a criminal offense has been committed against his or her child, unless the incident has first been reported to law enforcement or the county child welfare agency, and notification of the parent would impede the investigation

The previous bill

HB 755 was filed in 2021, sponsored in the House by two representatives from the Triad at the time, Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) and Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), and passed along party-line votes.

Most of the items in that bill are covered by existing state statutes and processes. It’s the issues about personal pronouns and teachers’ responsibilities to communicate with parents about discussions that might emerge and the limitations on curricula in kindergarten through Grade 3 that drew the most attention. The bill has been likened to Florida’s controversial so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

Senate Democrats filed a bill in response that addressed some of the same points, sponsor Garrett said, and drew from conversations with parents who told them what they want.