‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ clears final hurdle, set for Tuesday floor vote in NC Senate

Kaitlin McKeown/kmckeown@newsobserver.com

The Parents’ Bill of Rights cleared a final hurdle Monday, setting up an expected floor vote Tuesday for the controversial legislation that would ban topics like gender identity and sexuality from being taught in most elementary school classrooms in North Carolina, and potentially force teachers to out LGBTQ students to their parents.

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters Monday before the Senate Rules Committee considered the bill that he expected the Senate to vote on it Tuesday afternoon if the committee approved it. The bill quickly advanced through Senate committees last week.

The room where the Rules Committee met Monday evening was filled to capacity, as members of the public occupied rows of chairs and awaited their chance to address lawmakers with their thoughts on the contentious bill. More people waited their turns to speak outside the packed committee room.

Senate Bill 49, introduced last week GOP senators, follows similar legislation Senate Republicans filed last summer to enumerate a list of parental rights in their children’s education, and prohibit certain topics from elementary school curricula. That bill passed the Senate but wasn’t taken up in the House.

Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said the bill would protect elementary school-age children from inappropriate topics, and give parents confidence that they were aware of what their children are being taught.

“Whatever that family looks like,” Galey said. “Maybe they’re all tall people, maybe they’re all short people, maybe you have a gay couple, maybe you have a straight couple, maybe you have an African American family or a Hispanic family. Families can look incredibly different ways from each other, and all children should feel safe, included, no matter what, in the public school classroom.”

The bill advancing through the Senate now includes a requirement that schools notify parents if the name or pronoun their child is referred to by teachers or other school employees changes, with an exception for situations where “a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in the child becoming an abused juvenile or neglected juvenile.”

The bill also bans kindergarten through fourth grade curricula from including “instruction on gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality.” (The curriculum ban in the previous bill would have applied in K-3 classrooms.)

Committee hears public opinions on bill

More than two dozen speakers, many of them parents, teachers, and members of the LGBTQ community, shared their feelings on the bill during a lengthy and at times passionate public comment session.

Opponents of the bill urged Republican lawmakers in favor of the bill to consider the potential effects of the legislation on young people who might be questioning their gender identity and are uncomfortable or afraid to come out to their parents or families.

The bill’s requirement that schools notify parents if their children start using different names or pronouns would force schools to potentially out children to their families, and that could have a disastrous impact on students who aren’t ready to talk about their gender identity with family, several speakers warned.

“Requiring school employees, including counselors, to categorically out students who question their gender identity is a serious violation of student privacy,” said Kristie Puckett-Williams of the ACLU of North Carolina. “Mandating disclosure of this kind of sensitive information with no acknowledgment of the risk of harm puts students and school staff in an impossible situation.”

The bill’s supporters praised lawmakers for resurrecting the bill after it failed to advance last year. The bill, they said, would give parents the tools to know what materials are available in schools, and allow them to opt their children out of surveys and activities they didn’t approve.

Multiple members of the conservative Moms for Liberty group spoke in favor of the bill. Julie Page, the chair of the group’s Wake County chapter, said that public schools had not considered, or had ignored, the rights of parents for “far too long.”

“We want transparency in all things involving our children: curriculum, emotional health issues, physical health issues, surveys, reading materials, gender identity questions, and name changes,” Page said. “We simply want to know about these things so that we may help our children manage them.

“Secrecy only breeds distrust and division between schools, parents and students,” she said.

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