RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina Senate Republicans’ bill to expand parents’ say-so on issues involving their children’s education – including when sexuality can be discussed by teachers – has passed through committee.

Called the Parents’ Bill of Rights, the House Bill 755 was approved by the Senate Education Committee along a party-line vote on Wednesday morning. The bill would need to pass in the state Senate and House of Representatives, as well as get the governor’s signature, before becoming law.

FILE - Republican Senate leader Phil Berger speaks Aug. 24, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. North Carolina Senate Republicans are strongly considering legislation Monday, May 23, 2022, that would expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of additional low-income adults. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson, file)
NC Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) speaks last year in Raleigh. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson, file)

The bill, Republicans said, emerged after what parents saw when schools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It would address a variety of topics, some of them describing rights and processes already available, in language that is at times imprecise.

The element that gets much attention, though, is the prohibition on teachers in kindergarten through third grade of curriculum and instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. In Florida, a similar measure became known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law and became mired in controversy.

“If my child asked a question about something like that, I think I would want to know about it,” Berger told The News & Observer on Tuesday evening when announcing the bill’s status in the Senate. “And I think it would be incumbent upon the school to notify a parent that those are the kinds of inquiries that a child is making.”

There are some 82 similar bills in 26 states being considered, future-ed.org has tracked.  These include legislation that has been enacted in Arizona, Georgia and, of course, Florida.

HB 755 was filed more than a year ago, sponsored in the House by two representatives from the Triad, Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Greensboro) and Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), along with Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Valdese) and Rep. John Torbett (R-Stanley). The bill passed the required three readings on party-line votes and moved to the Senate before being referred to the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee.

“When schools shut down during the pandemic, a lot of parents were able to see their child’s education firsthand,” Committee Chair Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) said in a release. “This bill empowers parents to play an active and present role in their child’s schooling. Parents are their child’s best advocates.”

What the bill covers

  • A parent would direct the education and care of a child, including the moral and religious training, have school choice options, be able to access and review all educational records and to make all health care decisions – all of which already are available to parents.
  • No testing, sampling or storage of biomedical or DNA material from a child and no video recording of a child may be conducted without a parent’s permission.
  • A parent must be notified if a state employee suspects that a criminal offense has been committed against the child unless that notification would impede a criminal investigation.
  • Public schools must communicate policies and procedures with parents, which typically they do.
  • Parents have the right to withhold their children from discussions of reproductive health and safety programs, the right to seek a medical or religious exemption to immunization requirements, the right to review state educational testing data and reports and to inspect textbooks and curricula.
  • Instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity shall not be included in the curriculum in grades kindergarten through third, regardless of whether the information is provided by school personnel or third parties. The bill also requires schools to notify parents if a child wants to adopt a different pronoun.

Most of the other verbiage in the 10 pages addresses processes and practices that codify practices already in place in virtually all public school districts, Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said in a release.

“While we continue to review this bill, we already know much of what’s proposed is already codified in law, so this is nothing more than an attempt to solve a non-existent problem,” she said. “Instead of working to improve school conditions and build upon positive parent and teacher relationships, this bill is designed to cast schools as places of suspicion. It is an attempt to divide parents and teachers for political gain and distract from the real issues, years of passing state budgets that fall short of adequately funding public schools.  

“Our students need all adults (teachers & parents) working together to help them achieve their dreams. Parents and students have the right to fully funded, fully resourced, and fully staffed public schools that the North Carolina Constitution has granted. In addition, they have the right to inclusive learning and teaching classrooms that reflect who they are and the diversity of this great state.” 

Poor timing?

NC Democratic Party Chair Bobbie Richardson (WGHP)

Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro), Sen. David Craven (R-Randolph) and Sen. Amy Galey (R-Alamance) are members of the Education Committee. Robinson said she was unaware of the bill on Tuesday afternoon – before Senate leadership announced it – but none of them responded to emails seeking comments on the specifics in the bill.

Bobbie Richardson, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said she thought the timing of this bill was a problem given the mass murder of 19 elementary school students in Texas just a few hours earlier.

“I really think that on top of the tragedy of yesterday and a week ago [in Buffalo, New York], it is sad that our leadership spends time on plans to ban books,” Richardson told WGHP. “The real issue is we are losing lives every day. … They choose to think that taking books out of schools is going to make students safe.

“If they face any parent that has been impacted by the loss or injury to a child through gun violence – they would know that we want them to center on the critical crisis of what is happening right now.”

NOTE: An earlier version of this article omitted a reference to “curriculum” in discussions of sexual orientation in grades kindergarten through third.