RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Senate Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a wide-ranging proposal they say would help parents stay informed about what their children are being taught and how they're being treated by doctors. The measure also would tread into contentious LGBTQ matters that have caused divisive debate elsewhere.
The “Parents' Bill of Rights” legislation would bar public school curriculum for kindergarten through third grade from containing instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. Republicans contend the prohibition is more limited than a new Florida law that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which has received intense scrutiny nationally from critics who argue it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
And throughout K-12 schools, local school boards would be required to adopt procedures that notify a parent when school staff notices changes to a child's “mental, emotional or physical health or well-being," or before a child's name or pronoun is changed in school records.
Separately, the bill also would subject health care providers to disciplinary action by licensing boards should they fail to receive parental consent for non-urgent medical treatments for a minor child, including fines of up to $5,000.
With kids participating in online classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic, parents “got an up-close look at what their children were being taught. It opened their eyes in a lot of ways,” Senate leader Phil Berger said.
“The bill is about increasing transparency and trust in our public schools,” Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said at a news conference.
The measure, to be heard in an education committee on Wednesday, would have to clear both the House and Senate before going to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Berger and Sen. Deanna Ballard, who is helping shepherd the bill, said they hadn't spoken to Senate Democrats about the measure. But some Democratic support would be needed if Cooper vetoed the bill.
The measure would broaden the rights that parents already have in state and federal laws. Additional rights would include the ability to make health care decisions for their children and to be notified if a government agency suspects a crime has been committed against the child. The proposed rights would be in state law, not in the state constitution.
For schools, parents would have additional legal rights and be provided a “guide to student achievement” at the start of each school year. Parents would have to be informed that they can review textbooks and instructional materials, request that their child be evaluated for gifted programs and review standardize test results.
“Greater participation from our parents really does lead to a better quality of life for our students,” said Ballard, a Watauga County Republican. “When parents are excluded from critical decisions affecting their child’s health and well-being at school, it really sends a message to children that parents' input and authority is really no longer important.”
Berger said the provision addressing the K-3 classroom instruction is different from Florida's law because the Senate's proposal would only ban content on sexual orientation and gender identity from actual curriculum.
Language in the Florida law says "classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Berger said the North Carolina law would not prevent a K-3 teacher from responding to a child's LGBTQ-related questions. But he said it would make sense for a school to alert the child's parent about such questions.
Parents who have complaints about the K-3 curriculum or don't feel properly notified about their child's physical and mental health could ultimately seek intervention from the State Board of Education or go to court to seek an injunction.
This version corrects the bill's title to “Parents' Bill of Rights."