Civil Rights Group Says North Carolina Public Schools Harming Lgbtq+ Students, Violating Federal Law

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A civil rights group alleged Tuesday that North Carolina's public schools are “systematically marginalizing” LGBTQ+ youth while new state laws in part are barring certain sex-related instruction in early grades and limiting athletic participation by transgender students.

The Campaign for Southern Equality filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice against the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction, alleging violations of federal law. The complaint also alleges that the board and the department have failed to provide guidance to districts on how to enforce the laws without violating Title IX, which forbids discrimination based on sex in education.

“This discrimination has created a hostile educational environment that harms LGBTQ students on a daily basis,” the complaint from the group's lawyers said while seeking a federal investigation and remedial action. “And it has placed educators in the impossible position of choosing between following the dictates of their state leaders or following federal and state law, as well as best practices for safeguarding all of their students”.

The Asheville-based group is fighting laws it opposes that were approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2023 over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes.

One law, called the “Parents' Bill of Rights,” prohibits instruction about gender identity and sexuality in the curriculum for K-4 classrooms and directs that procedures be created whereby schools alert parents before a student goes by a different name or pronoun. The athletics measure bans transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams from middle and high school through college.

The group said it quoted two dozen students, parents, administrators and other individuals — their names redacted in the complaint — to build evidence of harm. These people and others said the laws are contributing to school policies and practices in which LGBTQ+ students are being outed to classmates and parents and in which books with LGBTQ+ characters are being removed from schools. There are also now new barriers for these students to seek health support and find sympathetic educators, the complaint says.

The group's lawyers want the federal government to declare the two laws in violation of Title IX, direct the education board and DPI to train school districts and charter schools on the legal protections for LGBTQ+ students and ensure compliance.

Superintendent Catherine Truitt, the elected head of the Department of Public Instruction, said Tuesday after the complaint was made public that the Parents' Bill of Rights “provides transparency for parents — plain and simple” and “ensures that parents remain aware of major health-related matters impacting their child’s growth and development.”

Local school boards have approved policies in recent weeks and months to comply with the law. It includes other directives designed to give parents a greater role in their child's K-12 education, such as a process to review and object to textbooks and to get grievances addressed. But earlier this month the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools voted for policies that left out the LGBTQ+-related provisions related to classroom instruction and pronouns.

Supporters of the transgender athlete restrictions argue they are needed to protect the safety and well-being of young female athletes and to preserve scholarship opportunities for them. But Tuesday's complaint contends the law is barring transgender women from participating in athletics. The group wants a return to the previous process in which it says the North Carolina High School Athletic Association laid out a path for students to participate in sports in line with their gender identities.