Columbus County school board adopts local Parents’ Bill of Rights

By Ben Rappaport 

The Columbus County school board on Monday adopted a localized version of the so-called Parents’ Bill of Rights that limits instruction about the LGBTQ+ community and requires teachers to notify parents when students want to change pronouns. 

The move, which had unanimous support from the school board, follows the passage of Senate Bill 49, a controversial measure that became law when the Republican-led General Assembly voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. 

Portions of the law are scheduled to take effect Sept. 15. But North Carolina Superintendent Catherine Truitt told reporters last week that she asked legislators for an extension until Jan. 1 to implement the policy due to outstanding questions from school leaders across the state. 

Truitt and the Department of Public Instruction are planning to offer guidance for school systems that they hope will be ready by early next month. 

The Columbus County school board, however, decided to go ahead and adopt changes, many of which were updates to existing policy. 

“lnstruction on gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality will not be included in the curriculum provided in kindergarten whether this information is provided by school personnel or third parties,” the local policy update reads.

The district said it was “excited” about the implementation of the new state law. Many of the changes were updates to existing policy to align with the new statewide regulations.

“A lot of the things listed here, we already do,” Columbus County Schools Superintendent Deanne Meadows told the board Monday. “There really are not many changes here. There’s just some things in the state bill that we now have to do.”

The state Parents’ Bill of Rights limits certain instruction around LGBTQ+ and sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade and mandates certain parent notifications around gender and sexual health. 

The law has drawn widespread criticism from LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, which say schools will be forced to out transgender students. Under the law, schools are required to notify parents “prior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel.”

“The bill would cause serious harm to LGBTQ+ students, making them vulnerable to forced outing and erasure in school curriculum,” Equality NC, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, said in a statement. 

The updated Columbus County Schools policy also requires schools to notify parents of changes to gender identity or pronouns. 

“No school system policy, procedure or form will expressly or otherwise prohibit school employees from notifying parents about their children’s mental, emotional or physical well-being,” the updated policy states.

Other local school districts are also expected to adopt similar localized versions of the Parents’ Bill of Rights. Bladen County Schools told the BBI on Tuesday that it expects to consider such a policy at its school board meeting next Monday.

“Bladen County Schools has already shared with parents via a letter sent home with students, our district and all school websites, and district app, a copy of the Parents’ Bill of Rights,” said Bladen County Schools spokesperson Elly Johnson.

Public Schools of Robeson County said their district will await guidance from the Department of Public Instruction on the implementation of the new policy.

“We will follow state guidelines and continue consulting with our board attorney for interpretation of Senate Bill 49,” said Public Schools of Robeson County spokesperson Jessica Sealey. “At this point, we are not planning or drafting our own version.”

Scotland County Schools also adopted a local version of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” a spokesperson told the BBI on Wednesday. Its version uses nearly identical language to the Columbus County Schools version, and was approved unanimously by its school board during a meeting on Monday.

“Many of the items in the SB 49 are already in existing SCS Board policies,” Scotland County Schools spokesperson Meredith Bounds said. “The implementation of the Bill of Rights can only strengthen the partnership between home and school.”

A copy of the Scotland County Schools version of the policy is available through the district website. After approving the policy, Scotland school board chairperson Rick Singletary acknowledged Truitt’s request for an extension. Singeltary encouraged district staff to “take time and do its due diligence” to ensure parents and community members are aware of the changes made through this policy.

Columbus County Schools board member Randy Coleman asked on Monday if the district would adopt a policy surrounding transgender athletes, which would align with a new state law that requires transgender athletes at the middle, high school, and college levels to play on sports teams assigned by their “reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

Meadows said such a policy will likely be adopted for Columbus County Schools, but the district is awaiting guidance from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. 

A copy of the local edition of the Parents’ Bill of Rights will be sent home to parents in the coming days.

“We want to be transparent,” Meadows said, “and we want to be partners with parents so they can engage with their child’s education.” 

This post has been updated from its original version to include information about Bladen County Schools, Public Schools of Robeson County and Scotland County Schools.