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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE CLOSURE: UPDATES, RESOURCES, AND CONTEXT

NC Senate Republicans approve controversial 'Parents' Bill of Rights'

North Carolina state Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, speaks to reporters at a news conference in the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Galey said she was baffled that her Parents' Bill of Rights, which seeks to bar instruction about sexuality and gender identity in K-4 classrooms, is seen as divisive.
Hannah Schoenbaum
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AP
North Carolina state Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, speaks to reporters at a news conference in the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Galey said she was baffled that her Parents' Bill of Rights, which seeks to bar instruction about sexuality and gender identity in K-4 classrooms, is seen as divisive.

Senate Republicans kicked off their first education committee meeting of the 2023 legislative session by approving a controversial bill that critics are calling North Carolina's "Don't Say Gay" bill.

The "Parents' Bill of Rights" outlines parents’ rights to get information about their child's education and give consent for their child’s participation in activities or services at school.

Some of the more controversial parts would require public schools to notify parents if a child has a change of name or pronouns in school records or by school personnel. The proposal would also require school boards to create policies to let parents review and challenge textbooks and other class materials.

Additionally, the bill would ban instruction in kindergarten through fourth grade on "gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality" without defining those terms, or how they apply to books or lessons.

Democratic Senator Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County questioned why this was the first bill the committee took up.

“I'm disappointed. I'll say that we're here on a bill that is so divisive, and I think the wrong priority to start us out on an education committee for our state,” Marcus said.

Republican Senator Amy Galey of Alamance County, who co-sponsored the bill, said she’s heard from constituents concerned about what their children are taught in public schools — especially after getting a peek into virtual classrooms during the pandemic.

“It baffles me to think that this bill could be divisive, quite frankly,” Galey said. “I cannot understand why it would be controversial to say that children 5-6-7-8-9 years old should not be taught about sexuality or sexual activity in a public school classroom.”

Ann Webb, an attorney from the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union who spoke during public comment, said the ACLU is most concerned with the provision that would require parents to be notified if a child changes their pronouns or name.

“The right to informational privacy does extend to students in a school setting," Webb said. “Students have a constitutional right to share or withhold information about their sexual orientation or gender identity from their parents, teachers or other parties.”

Others said they were concerned this bill would take a toll on LGTBQ students' mental health if the students feared being outed or simply didn't feel welcome in class. Callum Bradford, a high school junior who identifies as transgender, was among those voicing concerns. He told the committee he's thankful his parents support him, but that's not the case for all his peers.

“Many LGBTQ students are already terrified to come out to their family or friends and this bill only adds an extra obstacle for them,” Bradford said. “We deserve supportive environments where we can feel safe and learn to be social.”

Republican Senator Michael Lee addressed some of those arguments in his closing comments.

"Whether it's gender identity, whether it's sexual orientation, parents have the right to know because they might be able to help their child," Lee said. "Some parents are caring and supportive, and they can't fulfill that role unless they know it."

A similar bill proposed last year stalled because of concerns that Governor Cooper would veto it. Now Republicans have an easier path to override a veto.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org