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Overflow crowd urges delay on ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’

A new North Carolina law called the Parents’ Bill of Rights drew a packed house of speakers at the Nov. 16 Durham Board of Education meeting. Many community members urged the board to delay implementing the law, but some called for speedier compliance.

“Reject the bill, and enact a policy that protects queer youth,” said Ashley Golsch, anthropologist, echoing comments by several other speakers. 

However, not all speakers agreed. Rosaria Butterfield, a 61-year-old retired professor, urged the board to implement the new law.

“Following the law also protects each and every one of you,” she said. 

The Parents’ Bill of Rights, which the N.C. General Assembly passed in August after overriding Governor Cooper’s veto, mandates schools to notify parents regarding any changes in their student’s mental, emotional or physical health services and inform the parents if the student requests name or pronoun changes. The law also prohibits curriculum content on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade and grants parents access to review all curriculum and view all materials students borrow from the school library. 

North Carolina school districts were given extensions for compliance with some elements of the law, but several school districts are grappling with what to do to respond to community concerns and how to interpret the law. 

At the DPS board meeting,  community members — some dressed in neutral suits, dresses and Patagonia jackets, while others wore rainbow leggings and caps, and dangly, colorful jewelry — filled every seat in the room and spilled into the hallway. People took seats in the hallway and watched the live screen, waiting for their turn to enter the room and comment. 

Several speakers mentioned that challenges to the law are already underway. The Campaign for Southern Equality, a western North Carolina LGBTQ rights advocacy group, is currently preparing a federal Title IX complaint. 

Sarah Whitehall, a parent of a DPS student, urged the board to delay policy decisions until the issue is settled. “I would much prefer to see our tax dollars be spent educating our children and not fighting those battles out in court.” 

Elizabeth Shatzer, parent of two school-age children, echoed this statement. “History does not remember those who make the least bad policy, we remember those who took a stand and said no,” she said. 

A couple of parents shared personal experiences as parents of LGBTQ+ children. “Make it easier for the kids, that’s all I’m saying,” one parent, Neil Allen, said, choking back tears. 

The school board tabled the most controversial policies for further discussion. The board plans to have new drafts of the policies available for the public by its Dec. 14 meeting. We are revising them again to include more inclusive language and provide more clarity on what is allowed within the guidelines,” board member Millicent Rogers wrote in an email after the meeting. 

The Chapel-Hill Carrboro school district discussed similar policy changes in a Nov. 2 work session, and also delayed the decision for a further policy review. The Buncombe County Board of Education also recently postponed similar policy changes, and moved to review the policies again in December. 

“We as a board understand that we have to follow the law, we also recognize that this state law is in direct conflict with Title IX.” Rogers said in her email. “It is our duty to provide an interpretation of the law for our administration to create procedures that will continue to protect all of our students and educators.”