The Johnston County School Board voted on Wednesday, November 8, to bar books discussing gender identity and prohibit teachers from answering questions from students about that and other LGBTQ+ topics. According to reporting from the News & Observer (N&O), the board voted on multiple policies regarding North Carolina’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which was put into law in August when the General Assembly voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes on three anti-LGBTQ+ bills.
“Supplementary materials in K-5 that speak to gender identification, sexual activity and so forth, those supplementary materials will not be available in K-5,” school board vice chair Terry Tippett said at this week’s board meeting.
Johnston County Schools (JCS) — North Carolina’s seventh largest district with over 37,000 students — will create a protocol in order to review the books in school libraries to determine if they comply with the state law.
However, the Parents’ Bill of Rights doesn’t explicitly say school boards can use the law for school libraries. According to the N&O, the district argues the library books are “supplementary materials covered under the legislation’s definition of curriculum.”
Senate Bill 49 defines curriculum to “include the standard course of study and support materials, locally developed curriculum, supplemental instruction, and textbooks and other supplementary materials, but does not include responses to student-initiated questions.”
In addition to applying the law to the libraries, the Parents’ Bill of Rights states books pertaining to gender identity and sexuality are barred only in kindergarten through 4th grade curriculum. Johnston County’s policy also includes 5th grade in its book ban. School board members say because the state’s fifth grade curriculum includes puberty, they don’t have to establish a special section in elementary schools for fifth grade students.
Katie Cornetto, Johnston County’s school board attorney, is set to meet with school administration for training on how to handle students’ questions regarding gender identity.
“If there is a question that’s questionable for the principals, I would instruct the staff to actually say ‘thank you for that question and I will be able to give you a response after I check with your parents or the principal,’” she said. “That would be my recommendation until we get further clarity about the law.”