Following the lead of other Republican-led states, North Carolina lawmakers proposed a bill May 24 that would ban teaching about gender or sexuality in early elementary school grades, and could force school employees to out LGBTQ students to their parents. 

Critics in other states have called similar bills “Don’t say gay” rules and accused their backers of homophobic intentions, but North Carolina Republicans have defended their changes as being pro-parent, and not anti-gay. 

“It has no place in the K-3 curriculum,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard of Watauga County, the bill’s lead sponsor. 

The bill faces the potential of a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, but it could lead lawmakers to stake out positions ahead of the November elections on what they would do if voters give them more control. 

In addition to banning teachers of students up through third grade from teaching about LGBTQ issues, the bill would also require that if students in any grade tell teachers or counselors about issues related to their gender or sexuality — or about anything else related to their “mental, emotional or physical health or well-being” — then school employees would not be allowed to keep it a secret if the parents asked. 

Senate leader Phil Berger said he was not swayed by concerns that it might be harmful to LGBTQ students to out them against their will, saying parents have a right to know. “If my child asked a question about something like that, I think I would want to know about it,” he said. “And I think it would be incumbent upon the school to notify a parent that those are the kinds of inquiries that a child is making.” 

As for the K-3 ban on teaching about LGBT issues, the bill doesn’t say teachers would be punished for talking about it if the subject came up organically — only if it’s “included in the curriculum.” However, it’s unclear what exactly would happen if a parent believed a discussion was planned in the curriculum while the teacher said it just happened organically. The disagreement could end up being settled in court in a lawsuit, according to the bill, although there are also other administrative steps and hearings that might happen instead

There are also provisions in the bill letting parents have more access to their kids’ textbooks, classroom curricula and more. And if schools don’t cooperate with parents, or if they break the rules, then parents would be allowed to sue. Berger said much of the bill was inspired by remote schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to parents across the state getting a closer look at their kids’ day-to-day schooling. The goal, he said, is to keep up transparency even as schools are back in person. “It opened their eyes in a lot of ways,” Berger said. “Parents want to be involved in their children’s education.” It wasn’t immediately clear what state education leaders, like those at the Republican-led Department of Public Instruction, might think of the rule changes. 

Berger and Ballard said they didn’t share the details of the bill with anyone before announcing it the evening of May 24.

A spokesperson for Cooper said Tuesday night that the governor would review the bill further before commenting on it. 

This article appears courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer. It has been edited for space limitations.

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