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Parental Rights and Public Schools in North Carolina (School Choice in NC Part 5)

Public schools have been receiving a lot of national attention over the last few years, regarding things like controversial books in the libraries, the curriculum being taught, gender issues, and the extent of parents’ rights. This summer, the North Carolina Legislature passed the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which helps to clarify some of these matters.

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Michael Ramey, President of the Parental Rights Foundation, to discuss North Carolina’s Parents’ Bill of Rights and how it will benefit families in the public school system.

This episode is a part of a series highlighting the school choice movement across North Carolina. Tune in each week to learn more!

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Transcript: Parental Rights and Public Schools in North Carolina (School Choice in NC Part 5)

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As we wrap up our education series, we’re going to take a look today at North Carolina’s newly passed Parents’ Bill of Rights, which includes several provisions related to parents’ roles in their children’s education. We’re joined by Michael Ramey, president of Parental Rights Foundation, to discuss the growing movement to strengthen protections for parental rights across the country and, of course, here in North Carolina. Michael Ramey, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

MICHAEL RAMEY: Thank you, it’s good to be here.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What, in your opinion, is the current status of parental rights protections in the US today,

MICHAEL RAMEY: Literally and metaphorically, it’s all over the map. Some states are doing more to protect parental rights, and in other states, the usual suspects, California, New Jersey, and some others, are really passing new legislation to undermine parental rights.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Do you see what you would call the greatest threats to parental rights these days, as you’re seeing all of these different states?

MICHAEL RAMEY: Well, there are so many, because there are literally millions of parents all over the country, all dealing with the government in various ways. Of course, you know, in public education, one of the biggest threats is keeping secrets from parents. When a child is thinking of transgender or sexual orientation, thoughts, keeping secrets from parents about minor children is just not a good idea. And then for other folks, you know, especially folks in poverty and minorities, they might be dealing with child welfare issues that don’t respect their parental rights. So it really kind of depends on where that point of contact is between the parents and the government.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: The common thread is that we are seeing, I would imagine, a lot of these parental rights being eroded or the attempt to erode them.

MICHAEL RAMEY: We are. There’s sort of this other mindset that says that we can’t trust parents. And you know, the Supreme Court has held and recognized that foundational to our whole concept of law is that parents can be trusted as a general rule. That natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interest of their child. And what we’re seeing today is a new wave of public servants of government officials, and so forth, who apparently just don’t believe that. Don’t believe that parents can be trusted.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: The parental rights bill was passed over the objections and veto of our governor, what were his objections? Do you know? And what are the common objections of those who opposed the bill here in North Carolina?

MICHAEL RAMEY: Bills like the one in North Carolina tend to get the same kind of protest from those people who do have a different worldview. And according to a press release that Roy Cooper made, when he vetoed the bill on July 5, he seems to fall right in line with that. He cited concerns over the provisions that require public schools to notify parents if their children are thinking transgender and want to socially transition at school, he didn’t want the schools to have to tell parents that, and he’s not comfortable with the part of the bill that prevents, “instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality from being included in the curriculum provided in grades kindergarten through fourth grade,” so unlike a lot of parents in North Carolina, and across the country, he apparently is not concerned with letting kids be kids and not have to deal with these more grown-up activities for the first few years that they’re in school.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you mentioned this group of policymakers and just others who feel like we can’t trust parents. What kind of worldview is that? Where does that stem from, do you think that distrust of parents?

MICHAEL RAMEY: Part of it may be that, you know, now, as we’re interconnected more and more through the internet and through, just, you know, we can see things going on everywhere. And so the horror stories that pop up, even though they’re just as rare as they’ve ever been, and in many cases are rarer, they make the news cycles, and they grab the attention. And so some folks just think that because some parents abused their children that therefore we can’t trust any parents, which ironically, you know, there are considerable rates of abuse and mistreatment of children, even in public schools. But nobody’s saying, well, we can’t trust public schools with that. Certainly not the folks with that worldview. They’re saying, well, we need the teachers to keep an eye on the parents, and really the opposite is more true. We need parents keeping an eye on our public schools.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right. We talked a lot about how America is very individualistic. Could it be a kind of a hyper-individualistic attitude?

MICHAEL RAMEY: You think so but there are, for instance, vaccination laws that I think really display the lie of that. some states have tried to pass laws saying that a child as young as 12, or even younger, can get a vaccine over their parents’ objection. But none of them says that the child can be free from the vaccine if the parent wants to give it to them. So, in other words, they’re not really wanting the child to have the right to decide, they’re wanting the child to have the right to decide what the state wants if the parents disagree.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright, that’s a pretty important distinction. All right. Well, let’s talk about this bill in North Carolina, the parental rights bill, give us some details on that.

MICHAEL RAMEY: The bill protects certain rights of the parents specifically, it includes the right to direct the education and care of his or her child, to direct the upbringing and moral or religious training of his or her child, to enroll the child in public or non-public school or any other school choice options, to make healthcare decisions, and to access all their education records, and so on. And I’m actually kind of reading through section 114 A-10 of the bill there. These are some rights that the Supreme Court of the United States is upheld to be fundamental parental rights. And so it’s refreshing and encouraging to see them spelled out in North Carolina law right there in black and white.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, what kind of influence, do you think, are you seeing very specific changes coming?

MICHAEL RAMEY: The parts that are, folks, I think are anticipating changes, there is a part that says that parents have the right to make health care decisions and to access and review all medical records of the child and so on. And there’s a part that does direct schools that if the child considers themselves to be transgender and wants to socially transition at school that the schools need to let the parents know about that, which is a big deal. It’s a hot-button issue right now. But the fact is that parents need to be a part of those decisions that can really affect a child for the rest of their life, and allowing schools to keep those things secret from parents and begin what is essentially a board-recognized treatment of the child is something that we want to see stop. So that’s one thing that hopefully will change. Schools will stop keeping those secrets from parents about their minor children.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: How does North Carolina’s new Parents’ Bill of Rights compare to the ones you’ve seen in other states?

MICHAEL RAMEY: It’s funny, we call them Parents’ Bill of Rights, but there really are several different kinds. And there are some like Oklahoma passed one almost a decade ago that really spells out parents’ rights in a number of areas, not just focused on public schools like North Carolina’s is, and that’s not a problem. North Carolina’s is answering the immediate need to stop those dangerous secrets. So some states have Parents’ Bill of Rights is more inclusive than in others states, it’s less so. In some states, it’s just a very general thing. Like this year, three states, North Dakota and Iowa and Alabama passed not a Parents’ Bill of Rights, per se, but a law that states just plainly in the text, that parental rights are fundamental that they can only be overcome or limited for a compelling governmental interest that’s met by the least restrictive means. So that really matches the standard that the Supreme Court has set for parental rights in our country. And North Carolina didn’t go quite as far as that. They didn’t go quite as far as saying they’re fundamental or demanding that sort of compelling state interest. But in the areas that this bill covers, it’s really solid. And it’s great that it spells out in detail that the parents have these specific rights.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, do you have some things that you would appreciate being in this law? You mentioned the other states that had more inclusive laws. Are there some things that you might like to see added later on?

MICHAEL RAMEY: Yeah, for a full Parents’ Bill of Rights, I think considering, for instance, child welfare cases as well and some of the reforms that are needed there would be good to flesh out a full Parents’ Bill of Rights. Now, again, North Carolina’s wasn’t intended to cover everything is really, really focused on tackling the problems in the public schools, and I appreciate what it did. But in terms of when you look at child welfare, then you have to consider, you know, the termination of parental rights should be very much a last resort. And it’s not, parents should have rights from the outset of an investigation. They should know what their rights are. And the state should be working to keep families together as much as possible. So you know, avoiding foster care and that kind of thing, whenever possible, only remove children from their parents when the parents are demonstrably unfit to take care of their children. And we don’t really see that happening especially laying in some of the poorer neighborhoods, so not just in North Carolina, but all over the country. So those are some things I would love to see tackle. And then too, like I already mentioned, you know, just that parental rights are fundamental rights and require the highest level of judicial scrutiny when they are challenged by a law or by the state, that it must be to fulfill a compelling governmental interest that can’t be met by any less restrictive means.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, let’s talk just a bit more in-depth about aspects of the North Carolina law. I guess the most controversial portion is on the topics of gender and sexuality, whether it is included in the curriculum, talk about that, why is that so controversial, especially for children in elementary school?

MICHAEL RAMEY: The contents of the curriculum is actually one part of this that doesn’t fall into the area of parental rights exactly because parents have a right to opt their child out of particular offensive curriculum materials in certain courses, that involves parental rights. But as to what goes into the curriculum in the first place, that’s a policy matter, that’s going to be decided by the school board, or in this case, is going to be decided by state law. So a lot of parents rose up and made their voices heard and their concerns known. And the legislature responded to that. And that’s exactly what should happen, and that’s a policy decision. And again, it’s not exactly parental rights, per se, but certainly, those parents exercise their rights to be heard and make that change. So basically, parents in North Carolina, through their lawmakers, said we want our children to be able to be children for a while and maintain their innocence and not have to deal with these more grown-up topics until they’re ready.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Our local news station used the word targeted a lot when they talked about these potential laws and now law, one is, “new North Carolina laws will target transgender youth,” making it seem like it was going to be less safe for transgender youth in our schools. Do they have a point?

MICHAEL RAMEY: I think it’s rather the opposite way around. If the Supreme Court has held that children, even in adolescence, they lack the maturity and the capability of analysis and so forth to make these permanent lifetime decisions regarding their health, their mental health, and so on and that parents need to be the ones to help them make those decisions. And the Supreme Court has also said that parents and children have a shared interest in their natural parent-child relationship that the court shouldn’t be interfering with. So really, what we’re seeing is the schools are saying, and the folks who oppose bills like this are really saying, parents have these rights, children have these rights to have their parents involved unless they are gender or sexually minority children, in which case then the parental rights, and the child’s right to their parents’ counsel go away. So really, they’re the ones who are targeting these vulnerable youth by trying to take their parents, who traditionally fulfill a protective and defensive role for the child and take them out of the way. So they’re really the ones targeting the youth.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, what should parents do if they are concerned that their rights regarding the education and care of their own children are being either impeded or ignored?

MICHAEL RAMEY: Well, the first step you do is, in as much as you can, you talk to the school administrator or the school teacher. And it may be sufficient, especially with this law now on the book, to point to the law and remind them you know that you’re concerned about your child and you want to know what’s going on. And a lot of times, just having a good discussion can head off any misconceptions, any distrust, and you can work together with them. Now, if that doesn’t work, then you may need to talk to a lawyer who’s there in North Carolina, who knows North Carolina law, and is licensed in North Carolina, and they can give you some more direction there if it’s dealing with your children. And again, there’s that policy level, like I mentioned before, where if it’s not just your child, but you’re concerned about the direction of the whole school, or you’re concerned about the curriculum and so on, then that’s a third thing where you might group together with other parents, go to the school board meetings or talk to your lawmakers, and see where that can be changed at the policy level.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, we’re just about out of time for this week. Before we go, Michael Ramey, where can our listeners go to learn more about North Carolina’s new Parents’ Bill of Rights and the good work that you all are doing over there at Parental Rights Foundation?

MICHAEL RAMEY: So the website is, and if they’ll click on the news tab at the top, and then click again on news in the pulldown menu, then the very first article there, the newest one is on the veto override there in North Carolina and that has our article about that.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, Michael Ramey, president of Parental Rights Foundation. Thanks so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.

MICHAEL RAMEY: Thank you for having me.

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