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‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ brings both parent awareness and teacher concerns

Photo by Elijah Mears on Unsplash
North Carolina legislators convene to pass a new law giving more parental rights within public schools. Among the new policies of the 2023-2024 school year is the “Parents’ Bill of Rights”, which includes legislation that teachers say target certain students.

The 2023-2024 school year brings new changes to North Carolina school policies, including the passage of SB49, also termed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights.” The bill is intended to “Enumerate the rights of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their children,” and gives parents a larger role in controlling their childrens’ development in school. 

SB49 allows parents to “direct the upbringing and moral or religious training of his or her child,” referring to the right it gives parents to restrict content taught in standard North Carolina classroom curricula. 

The bill gives parents the right to view all academic and medical records of their child. It also allows for them to make healthcare “decisions” for their children. Advocates against the bill argue that such decisions are harmful for transgender youth, and come in succession to a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in recent months, including a bill that would prevent hospitals from providing gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18. 

SB49 also grants parents a variety of other rights in regards to their children’s personal information. This includes the right to make certain health care decisions for their children, and prevents the creation or distribution of blood, DNA, or any other bodily scan without written parental consent. These rights also prohibit recording voice or video of any minor under the age of 18 without prior written consent from a parent or guardian, with certain exceptions. 

The bill created disagreement within the North Carolina Senate and continues to do so due to its controversial nature; one of the broadest aspects of the bill pertains to teacher’s notifying parents of their students’ use of a name other than the name provided in school records. 

The legislation was passed with a 29-18 vote along party lines in early February, and North Carolina public school system throughout the 2023-2024 school year. A provision in the bill mandates that teachers notify parents with a message if their child opts to be called a name other than that assigned at their birth. The specific language in the bill states that “prior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel, notice to the parent of the change.” 

The bill has authority in directing the policies that school boards draft and implement, placing even more power into the legislation. Wake County plans to provide school administrators and personnel guidance on implementation.

Some teachers have concerns regarding the potential harmful effects of such legislation. 

One such teacher who has observed this is Mr. Allen Botwick, a chorus teacher at Green Hope High School and sponsor of the student True Equality Alliance club. He expressed reservations about the bill. “As a teacher, it is my goal that every student of mine feels comfortable being their most authentic self,” said Mr. Botwick. “I’m concerned that this bill may harm students that feel safe and comfortable being authentic at school, but not at home.” 

Other faculty members communicated similar concerns, including Social Studies teacher Ms. Kimberly Mackey. Mackey is an advocate within the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). “There’s a lot of the parts that concern me, [especially] some of the areas where students seem to lose some privacy that they once had ways to explore like who they are and interests that they have,” said Ms. Mackey. 

In particular, she noted that the vague wording inside the bill may result in unintended consequences. “One of the things that [the bill] talks a lot about is health care, and what counts as health care, what doesn’t count as health care, which health care needs permission before and what it does,” said Ms. Mackey. “And so, there’s a lot of very broad language in this bill. And that’s part of the problem is by being so broad, it creates more confusion, because it ends up covering 100 things when lawmakers perhaps only intended two or three.” 

“A lot of people have been talking about impacts on the LGBT community. And you can certainly point to those impacts. However, the General Assembly couldn’t phrase a law that only targeted a group because that would be a federal civil rights violation. So that’s why we see the broad language is because then they can say it’s not targeted at a particular group,” said Ms. Mackey. 

As future amendments to the bill are debated and implemented, Ms. Mackey thinks that student-initiated conversations revolving around the subject are critical to communicating with students regarding the passing of this law. “I think it’s something it’s perfectly okay for students to initiate questions and bring it up, so I think one of the ways is regardless of the topic that teachers and staff know since they want to talk about things is when students initiate those conversations and ask those questions,” she said. 

Ms. Mackey also explained that this provides a way for teachers to gauge an understanding of the issues arising from this legislation that most worry students. “That’s part of how we’re aware of what’s on students’ radar and what they’re concerned about. So yes, students who have questions should, it would be perfectly fine to initiate questions,” she said. 

Mr. Botwick believes in facilitating open conversations among the student body; he further stated that teachers and staff should receive training to specially support students in the wake of such legislation. “Teachers and schools should receive training on supporting LGBTQ+ students,” he said. “I also think it is important for teachers and staff to have conversations with students that are impacted by this bill and hear their thoughts, needs, and questions.” 

He also believes that the role that teachers play in offering students safe environments to learn in are invaluable, particularly for students who feel targeted by the law. “Educators can work to create a safe and inclusive space by respecting every student, using correct pronouns and names and actively working to build relationships with students,” said Mr. Botwick. 

“When a teacher is intentional about building relationships with students, they have the opportunity to become an ally, supportive adult, or listening ear,” he said. 

Teachers, administrators and all school personnel are currently awaiting guidance from Wake County on the best method of implementing the laws in their classrooms.

UPDATE: The NC General Assembly passed the 2023 budget which pushes implementation of SB49 to January of 2024.

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Peggy Chen, News Editor
Peggy Chen is a junior at Green Hope High School, and this is her second year in the journalism program. She is thrilled to serve as the news editor and be able to report on the issues that she is passionate about. She is focused on covering climate, local policy, and food systems, but always loves a good investigative story. Outside the Falcon, she spends her time serving on the Los Angeles Times High School Advisory Board, playing tennis, and reading about space exploration. She is excited to make an impact through journalism at Green Hope!
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