School board member Melissa Easley offered a promise after what she called a heart-breaking vote Tuesday night: She’ll continue to work toward inclusion. Her statement came as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted to approve four policies, that comply with the Parents’ Bill of Rights — a new law created through the legislature’s veto override this month of Senate Bill 49.
The law limits instruction of LGBTQ+ issues in elementary schools and forces schools to notify parents prior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel, among others. Three of the CMS policies were voted with a 7-2 vote. One passed with a 6-3 vote. Easley, the CMS District 1 representative, said the law will cause long-lasting damage to people in the LGBTQ+ community in North Carolina because it prevents them from being themselves or seeing themselves acknowledged.
“To the CMS students who will experience harm or risk danger under these regressive laws, I want you to know that there are many in this community who support your authentic lives,” said Easley, who identifies as bisexual and whose spouse identifies as gender fluid.
The district is one of the first, if not the first in the state, to change its policies, said Charles Jeter, a former Republican legislator who represented parts of western Mecklenburg County and is the executive director of government affairs for CMS.
“The district has spent dozens and dozens of hours doing the work necessary to comply with Senate Bill 49 prior to the start of school,” Jeter said. “It’s been a Herculean task but one that we feel like we are on track to accomplish. I can’t imagine any other school district has done what we’ve done.”
Jeter said the bill became law immediately after the legislature’s override on Aug. 16. “That, along with other required dates in the bill, caused CMS to make these changes as quickly as possible in order to have them in place prior to the start of the school year,” Jeter said. CMS’ first day of school for students is Monday, August 28.
“Nobody is trying to erase anybody,” said Brooke Weiss, chair of the Moms of Liberty, Charlotte-Mecklenburg chapter. Weiss, during multiple public hearings, emphasized to the board that Senate Bill 49 is now “the law.”
CMS Students affected by ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’
The key policy changes approved Tuesday include:
▪ Parents will have to opt in for their children to participate in reproductive health and safety education programs. Prior to the new law, parents had to opt-out their children if they didn’t want them to be a part of the programs.
▪ CMS must give parents the right to review library and education materials, including textbooks used in class. There also is a way for parents to object to material in school media centers and/or books and educational materials used in class.
▪ Gender identity, sexuality or sexual activities cannot be mentioned in any K-4 curriculum.
▪ District schools must notify parents if their child wants to use a different name or pronoun. Superintendent Crystal Hill told the board CMS will follow the law.
“We will continue to ensure students are learning in a safe, innovative, inclusive, student-centered environment,” Hill said. “While we are in a highly politicized environment, I will not allow our students and staff to become political footballs. I stand firm in doing what is in the best interest of our students.”
Dozens of parents, educators and residents who attended the meeting supported Easley and the LGBTQ+ community. “Know that we are forced to pass these policy changes because of Senate Bill 49,” Easley said. “But this does not mean that our vision of equity, inclusion and diversity has changed in CMS. All of you, including members of the LBGTQ community, are seen, valued and loved.”
Those who oppose parts of the law, including Easley, say they could lead to, among other things, LGBTQ+ students being outed to parents who won’t accept them.
CMS student Celia Kaul told board members aspects of the law “terrify” her. “I believe it is essential to provide all students with a comprehensive education that includes learning about LGBTQ+ characters so we can better understand and support our fellow LGBTQ+ classmates,” Kaul said. “As students, we must be exposed to diverse perspectives and experiences to foster a more inclusive and accepting society. “I have been taught the value of human life. Gender and sexual orientation have never played a role in that. These laws are discriminating against a whole group of students who have the right to a safe and welcoming environment to learn.”
Board member Gregory “Dee” Rankin voted for the policies but said that “doesn’t mean I support Senate Bill 49.” “I do not support Senate Bill 49,” Rankin said. “I have all faith and confidence in our superintendent, our staff, our educators that they will continue to create safe spaces for our students within the policy.”
Following the law
Easley tearfully shared with the Observer and the school board Tuesday that her family, including two children in elementary school, regularly receives threatening notes at home. Easley says she has called the police for some incidents.
Easley also said someone made a complaint to child welfare against her family, forcing them to be interviewed to make sure the children were safe. “These things are happening to us because of my spouse’s gender fluidity and my bisexuality,” said Easley. “I know that our story is not unique.”
On Friday, August 17, Easley wore a T-shirt with the words “I won’t be quiet so YOU can be comfortable” to the board’s policy committee meeting, drawing the ire of Weiss.
Weiss wrote on Facebook Sunday: “It is inappropriate to use her seat as a platform for her activism. She is a public official now and should act more professionally. She certainly has a right to be upset and disagree with the new laws, but as citizens we do not get to pick and choose which laws we get to follow.”
Easley says the new law is personal. “I am sad. I am hurt,” she said. “I cannot be complicit or quiet in the face of such oppression.”