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How NC Schools Have (and Have Not) Adopted the Parents’ Bill of Rights

Students sitting at desks in a classroom at school

In August, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Parents’ Bill of Rights. This pivotal legislation reinforces the central role of parents in their children’s upbringing with special attention given to the areas of education and healthcare. Since its passage, the bill’s implementation has varied across the state’s many school districts, with some districts showing resistance, particularly to what some consider the measure’s more contentious aspects. The variety in application highlights the true importance of this legislation and underscores the need for parent and community engagement in local education policy.

Parents’ Bill of Rights

The North Carolina General Assembly passed SB—49, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, in August 2023, overriding Governor Roy Cooper’s veto. This bill does numerous things to support the primacy of the role of parents in the lives of their children. Among other things, the bill:

  • Ensures parents’ right to consent or withhold consent for their child’s participation in reproductive health and safety education,
  • Ensures parental access to their children’s academic and medical records,
  • Ensures parents can review textbooks and supplementary instructional materials,
  • Promotes increased parental involvement in public schools,
  • Requires parents to opt-in for student participation in protected information surveys,
  • Requires parental consent for medical treatment of their children.

For more information on what is and is not included in the bill, see NC Family’s article, What Is (And Is Not) In The Parents’ Bill Of Rights.

Rate of Adoption

Because SB 49 was passed so close to the start of the school year, the budget bill, HB 259, adjusted the deadline for local policy updates to January 1, 2024. Here’s how it has been adopted so far.

Across the state, the 115 local public school districts have been working to draft and implement updated policies in response to SB 49. The adoption by local school boards has varied in speed and conformity. Some districts moved quickly, while others are still underway. The following are some examples.

Perhaps surprisingly, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the second largest district with more than 140,000 students, was one of the first districts to update their policies. Despite expressing disagreement and concern, board members implemented policy changes starting last August.

In coastal N.C., Brunswick County’s policies are not yet completed, though they are expected next month. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ new policies just passed a first vote and won’t see a final vote until after their February 1 work session at their next meeting on February 15. Similarly, Asheville City Schools expects to have their new policy approved at their meeting on February 12.

Not surprisingly, most districts rolled out their proposals and/or adopted their new policies between October and December of last year. For example, the state’s largest district, Wake County Schools, with more than 160,000 students, finalized its new policies in December. The State Board of Education, likewise, approved its new policy regarding the process for parental concern hearings in November.

Level of Adoption

Of the many elements of the bill, there are two issues that some have considered the most controversial. First and foremost, is the bill’s requirement for schools to notify parents “prior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel.” Second, the bill prohibits “instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality” in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Like the variation in timelines of adoption, there has also been a variety in content implementation. Most school boards have complied with the law—as they are required to do—and adopted new policies that match the requirements of the Parents’ Bill of Rights. In Wake County, for example, the school board passed a first round of policies in November, without addressing the more sensitive portions. The remaining elements were only later addressed by additional policies passed in December.

However, some school boards have responded even less favorably, considering policies that may follow the “letter of the law” but certainly not the “spirit of the law.”

For example, when Buncombe County passed their new related policies at their meeting on December 7, at least one attendee described their notification policy as including “noncompliant verbiage.” Essentially, their policy introduces a consultation stage between the classroom and administration before parental notification.

Orange County Schools create an even broader process before parental notification, as well as other language even more resistant than the Buncombe policy. You can find more about these districts’ policies here.

Not unexpectedly, the most extreme case is Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS). This district has ultimately decided—at least for now—to refuse to adopt policies addressing the parental notification and sexuality education provisions. Despite at least one board member suggesting they follow the approach of Buncombe and Orange, and their open admission that the omission could bring legal trouble, the board ultimately voted unanimously to approve policies that addressed the rest of SB 49 while not implementing the two most controversial elements.

Actions to Adopt

It can be tempting to think that successfully passing a substantive bill like the Parents’ Bill of Rights will solve issues in these areas. Unfortunately, SB 49 is a prime example of why we can’t be complacent. Good policies may be enacted into law, but then they have to be implemented, and when legislation is implemented by those who don’t agree, it can be implemented poorly or maybe not at all.

According to reporting, everyone who spoke during public comment for CHCCS favored the non-compliant policy. Furthermore, “most community members, students and teachers who wrote to the board” were also opposed to the legislative provisions. At the Asheville City Schools work session, no public comment was scheduled, but the board allowed two parents to speak, both of whom spoke against the Parents’ Bill of Rights.

If all or most of those who speak at school board meetings or contact school board members are advocating for one side of an issue, it should come as no surprise when the board votes in that direction.

For all these reasons, we need to remain engaged at the local level to help drive good policies for our communities—whether enforcing bills like Senate Bill 49 or other important measures.

As Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina President Mike Long put it at the recent school choice rally, “Parents are the ones best equipped to hold school leaders accountable.”

One example of an opportunity is in Asheville. Though there was no public comment scheduled at their January work session, they plan to hear public comment at their work session on February 5 and their next meeting on February 12. Similar opportunities exist in Brunswick County, in Chapel Hill, and in other school districts that have yet to adopt policies relating to SB 49.

We have to speak up now so our schools produce graduates who know what is worth speaking up for in the next generation.



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