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School board considers raft of policy changes required under new statewide Parents’ Bill of Rights

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Alamance-Burlington school board members are considering a raft of policy revisions that will be required in order to comply with the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” passed by the General Assembly.

The Parents’ Bill of Rights was sponsored by senator Amy Scott Galey, a Republican who represents Alamance and Randolph counties, as well as Republican senators Michael Lee and Lisa Barnes.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill in July, but the General Assembly successfully overrode his veto in mid-August.

The deadline to implement required policies regarding parental notifications has been extended until January 1, 2024, in order to give North Carolina public school systems more time to comply, according to the N.C. School Boards Association.

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The bill bans any instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, and sexuality for students in kindergarten through grade 12, according to a summary from the Legislative Analysis Division for the General Assembly.

Among the more controversial provisions in the new law is a requirement for public school employees to notify parents if a child requests to change his or her name or preferred pronoun at school.  That provision also creates a penalty – that employees “may” be subject to unspecified disciplinary actions – for encouraging or coercing a student to withhold information from his or her parents.

The Parents’ Bill of Rights also prohibits health care practitioners, including school nurses, from providing medical treatment to minors without parental consent.

The Parents’ Bill of Rights – modeled after similar legislation passed in Florida in 2021 – is intended to strengthen the ability of parents to control their children’s education in several other areas.

ABSS deputy superintendent Lowell Rogers presented proposed revisions to five existing policies – for what he termed a “second first reading” – to school board members during their latest meeting.  The proposed revisions to the five policies were listed on the school board’s meeting agenda as an informational item; and school board members neither discussed nor voted on the changes.

The proposed revisions include the following additions to existing ABSS policies:

  • Parental inspection of and objection to instructional materials: adds language specifying that principals must aim to resolve parental concerns with seven days of notification; and if it remains resolved after 30 days, the school system must provide an explanation of why not.

That provision also gives parents the opportunity to have a hearing before the State Board of Education.

The school board’s attorney, Adam Mitchell of the Tharrington Smith law firm in Raleigh, told school board members during a recent presentation about the new law that the Parents’ Bill of Rights amplifies existing state and federal laws, such as the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

As an example, Mitchell noted that the Parents’ Bill of Rights codifies in state law an existing right under FERPA to review materials their child has borrowed from a school library.

“For all grades, changing the student’s name or pronoun in school or in school records, applies literally to any change of name, including nicknames,” Mitchell explained during his presentation.  “There are other implications that would apply to gender, as well; I think it’s important that we comply with that.”

School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves asked the attorney during the earlier discussion whether that requirement would apply if she were enrolled in a school as Sandra but wanted to be called Sandy.

“We would need to notify parents,” ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler responded.

Mitchell opined that he feels the best practice would be to get written parental notice of and consent to any change in a child’s name and/or pronouns.

  • Parental involvement: Adds language stating that, “Parents are responsible for cooperating with school employees to facilitate their children’s compliance with board policies concerning homework, school attendance, and behavior.”

That proposed policy revision also adds a requirement for each principal to: ensure that his/her school improvement team develops a plan for parental involvement; publicize drafts of the parental involvement plan; and enhance parental involvement through “regular, meaningful” communication between the school and home; and encourage parents to volunteer at their children’s schools, among a number of other proposed changes outlined in the 15-page policy governing parental involvement.

Mitchell school board members that this provision requires public school systems to develop policies that are intended to improve parental involvement in their children’s education.

The Parents Bill of Rights contains new provisions requiring public school systems to adopt what Mitchell termed a “student specific guide to student achievement.”

“The law directs the State Board of Education to set some minimum criteria for this, and we have to comply at least with what the state board has adopted,” Mitchell told school board members during their work session.  “That is still in process.”

  • Comprehensive health education program: Explicitly bans instruction on gender identity and sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Mitchell noted during the earlier discussion that a portion of the new law that outlines prohibited healthcare procedures could unintentionally prevent school employees from rendering emergency healthcare.

“I’m not saying that it does,” the school board’s attorney added.  “We’re working with a number of experts to get comfortable with an explanation.”

Mitchell also pointed out that the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is seeking a waiver that would allow schools to continue to administer a youth risk behavior survey – conducted on behalf of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control since 1991 – to identify high school students at risk for unhealthy behaviors, such as substance abuse.

  • Surveys of students: Requires parental consent before any student will be permitted to participate in most surveys. Parental consent is also required for health screening forms and “well-being questionnaires” for students in kindergarten through third grade. Parents also have the right to inspect any surveys created by third parties before the survey can be administered.

Public school systems are also required to provide, at least 10 days prior to conducting any survey, opportunities to review the process and full text of the survey, based on an analysis of the Parents’ Bill of Rights that Mitchell presented to school board members.

  • Staff responsibilities: The only substantive change to this existing ABSS policy is additional language, which states that all employees shall “support parents in effectively participating in their child’s education and never encourage or coerce a child to withhold information from a parent.”

One of the new rights that Mitchell, the school board’s attorney, highlighted during his presentation to the board prohibits “the creation of a video or voice recording of his or her child without the parent’s prior written consent.”

However, that provision in the new law contains an exemption, which allows for the creation of recordings for a court proceeding, criminal investigation, safety demonstration, academic or extracurricular activity, classroom instruction, school ID cards, and/or recordings captured by surveillance cameras used on school grounds and school buses.

“The school system is still run and controlled by you, the board, the superintendent, school leadership – I don’t think that has changed,” Mitchell elaborated during the school board’s work session.  “There has been some concern that this overthrows the floodgates of the ability of the school district to run itself; I don’t think there’s a fundamental shift in how the school systems are run.”

Galey, one of the three primary sponsors of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, had not responded to an inquiry from The Alamance News by press time.

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