Advocates file federal complaint over ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ law

NC NEWSLINE - North Carolina’s adoption of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” law has led to school-based policies and practices that discriminate against LGBTQ students, the Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) alleges in a federal Title IX complaint against the State Board of Education and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division on Tuesday. It contends that the state’s public schools are “systematically marginalizing” LGBTQ students with the mandates included in Senate Bill 49. The law requires educators to alert parents if their child changes their name or pronoun at school. It also restricts instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 classrooms.

“Under the leadership of the North Carolina State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction, local school districts are barring LGBTQ-affirming content, outing transgender students, erecting barriers to LGBTQ students receiving needed health care at school as well as support from educators and prohibiting transgender girls from playing athletics consistent with their gender identity,” CSE wrote in its complaint on behalf of LGBTQ students.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson
 Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson 

The complaint is critical of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson for making what CSE contends are “homophobic and transphobic” remarks. The complaint shares several Robinson quotes about homosexuality including one he made at a church in 2021 in which he said: “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth.”

CSE is also critical of State Superintendent Catherine Truitt for her support of SB 49 and House Bill 574, the so-called “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which restricts transgender females from playing middle school, high school and college sports.

“While she [Truitt] avoids ranting about “filth,” she agrees with the Lieutenant Governor [Robinson] that transgender people do not really exist,” the complaint states. “ She consistently refers to transgender women as “biological males” and speaks consistently of “gender preference.”

CSE asked federal officials to protect students.

“SBE’s and DPI’s implementation of SB 49 and HB 574 is discriminating against LGBTQ students in North Carolina,” the complaint states. “This discrimination has created a hostile educational environment that harms LGBTQ students on a daily basis and, in so doing, violates Title IX.”

Educators have been left in an impossible position due to SB 49 mandates and a lack of guidance from the state education leaders about how to implement them, the complaint said.

“They [educators] must choose between, on the one hand, following state leaders’ orders or, on the other hand, federal and state legal obligations as well as their professional obligations to their students,” the complaint states.

NCDPI spokeswoman Blair Rhoades told NC Newsline in December that the department provided information about SB 49 to more than 350 participants via a webinar. Rhoades shared a document the department has provide for guidance with the lengthy title: “Parents Guide to Student Achievement (PSGA) Considerations from NCDPI: Based on Parents’ Bill of Rights – SB49; Session Law 2023-106.”

Meanwhile, the complaint included dozens of testimonials from students, parents, educators and other who shared stories about how the mandates are harming students by forcing LGBTQ students back into the closet and preventing them from receiving supportive services.

One high school student reported: “I personally have a supportive family who has put my preferred name in PowerSchool, but my friends are no longer feeling safe going by their preferred name and pronouns because they’re afraid that they will be outed to their families who are not supportive. These friends are scared for their safety and well-being.”

Democratic critics of the law complained that the legislation would have a chilling effect on student and teacher relationships at a time when student mental health is a top concern. But Republican supporters said it grew out of parental concerns about school curriculum parents saw when children were learning from home during the pandemic.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro School member Mike Sharp said SB 49 needs more work.

“I think a logical next step then would be to send this back to the policy committee with a clear directive from us that says: take out the parts of this that are harmful to children, rewrite it, ignore whether you’re breaking SB 49,” Sharp said in testimonials shared by CSE.

Last week, Sharp’s board declined to create a procedure to alert parents before allowing a student to use a different name or pronoun at school. It also declined to prohibit instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 classrooms.

Truitt said there could be consequences for not following the law.

“No. Sorry. You may not break the laws you don’t like – even in Chapel Hill. I worked with the legislature to pass the Parents Bill of Rights to protect children and empower parents and it’s unacceptable for Chapel Hill or anyone else to ignore it,” Truitt tweeted last week.

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