North Carolina Senate committee approves parental rights in education bill

(The Center Square) – A bill to codify parents’ rights in education and stipulate age appropriateness for curriculum on gender identity and sexual orientation cleared the North Carolina Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

Committee members approved House Bill 755 Wednesday by voice vote to enhance public school transparency, outline the rights and responsibilities of parents, and install guardrails on curriculum dealing with gender identity and sexual orientation.

Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, described the bill as “an opportunity to engage our parents to play an active role” in public education by explicitly stating their right to direct the “education, care, upbringing, and moral or religious training” of their child, including authority over health care records and educational records.

The bill would require schools to inform parents of their rights and responsibilities and provide a guide for student achievement. Schools would also be required to inform parents of changes in their child’s physical or mental health, including requests for name or pronoun changes, as well as remedies for parents to address concerns over those issues.

HB 755 further prohibits school curriculums on gender identity and sexual orientation for kindergarten through third grade, and would provide penalties for health care practitioners who neglect to obtain written consent from a parent before treating a child.

Other aspects of the bill would prohibit schools from creating, sharing, or storing biometric scans, blood, or DNA of students without written consent, as well as video or voice recordings of students.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, invoked the recent Texas school shooting tragedy to argue lawmakers should focus instead on school safety, rather than parents’ rights or transparency, but was admonished by committee Chair Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.

“As a parent, the right I really care about is keeping our kids safe in schools,” Chaudhuri said.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, also questioned the need for the legislation as “most of these rights are already in statute.”

“The problem is there’s not a standardized process out there,” Ballard said. “What this bill does is inform parents what they can do.”

Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, said she “heard from a lot of teachers” with concerns about how the bill might restrict their profession.

“I’m concerned about the lesson plans. It seems to be too much micromanagement,” she said. “Why should it be so detailed? This seems to be boxing teachers in.”

Sen. Don Davis, D-Wake, suggested a better approach to engaging parents would be to encourage personal education plans that bring teachers, administrators and students together to discuss issues.

Several parents also offered comments on the legislation, mostly in favor of HB 755.

Katie Long, a mother of two Wake County students, highlighted federal authorities tracking parents who complain at school board meetings, and commended lawmakers for standing up for parental rights.

“Our parental rights have been infringed upon the last two years,” she said. “Parents must be heard and their voices should never be silenced.”

Pat Blackburn, with Moms for Liberty, echoed Long’s perspective.

“We need this law to hold government accountable for respecting our rights,” Blackburn said. “The trust parents once had in our schools … they broke our trust.”

“This bill is a start,” she said. “It’s a litmus for how we’re all voting in November.”

Julie Page, representing Moms for Liberty Wake County, said the “common sense legislation” makes it clear parents “do not want to co-parent with the government.”

A representative from the public school advocacy group Save Our Schools argued in favor of schools withholding information from parents, recalling her experience in an abusive home and how communication from her school made matters worse.

“School is where I didn’t get hurt,” she said. “Please don’t do that to more children.”

Other parents of special needs students and a representative from North Carolina Values also testified in support of HB 755, while Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, testified against.

“Many of the proposed provisions aren’t even necessary,” Kelly said. “This bill does nothing to address the very real issues facing our public education system today.”

HB 755 now heads to the Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee for further debate.