The state Senate is set to begin debating proposed legislation that would require schools to tell parents if their children want to change their pronouns or seek counseling, and would ban teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 classrooms.
The provisions are part of a larger measure that Republican sponsors say would make it easier for parents to know what’s being taught in school and about counseling their children receive. Under the bill, parents would be able to go to court to get information if they are not satisfied with responses to their questions.
Critics said the bill is not needed, and is a distraction from the legislature’s failure to provide adequate school funding.
“It’s dangerous,” Equality NC Executive Director Kendra Johnson said in an interview. “We know that LGBTQ students are harassed. This level of policing is deeply problematic.”
Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the NC Association of Educators, said Republicans are trying to divide teachers and parents for political gain instead of talking about funding schools under the Leandro mandate.
The bill draws attention away from the day to day issues at schools, she said, such as inadequate pay and lack of school counselors.
“Our lawmakers are once again showing their disconnect from the reality on the ground in our schools and our community,” she said.
These kinds of bills are being pushed by Republican legislatures and governors in other states.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed what’s known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law that prohibits instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 and classroom discussion of those topics. The law also prohibits discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity at certain grade levels, leading some Florida teachers to worry how to respond to student questions about diverse families. NBC reported on two Florida teachers who quit because of the law.
Text of the North Carolina bill was not available online Tuesday night, but Senate leader Phil Berger discussed it at a news conference late Tuesday afternoon.
Berger said the proposal’s section on K-3 instruction differs from the Florida law.
“There is no attempt to squelch folks from talking about things,” Berger said. Parents should know whether their children are receiving counseling. And if parents ask school employees whether their children are asking questions about sexual orientation, the school should tell them.
“If my child asks a question about something like that, I think I would want to know about it,” Berger said. “It would be incumbent upon the school incumbent upon the school to notify a parent that those are the kinds of inquiries the child is engaged in.”
Berger said he didn’t believe the bill has a notification requirement, but “if the parent asks, the parent has the right to know that.”
The bill is being debated in the shadow of the midterm elections. There’s no guarantee Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper would sign the bill if it gets through the legislature. But the issue and legislators’ votes could become fodder in election campaigns.
Johnson called the bill “a solution is search of a problem” because schools aren’t teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in K-3 classes.
“It sounds like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida,” she said. “Schools should be inclusive spaces for all genders, people of all religious backgrounds. It should be a place where we bring all of ourselves.”
A strong relationship between parents and educators leads to student academic and social success, Walker Kelly said. Parents can already get the information about school instruction that Berger described, she said.
“When students come to school, they have the right to be affirmed and seen in the classroom,” Walker Kelly said. “To restrict conversation about the diversity of families can be harmful to students in our schools.”