State Board of Ed attorney informs panel it lacks authority to enforce Parents' Bill of Rights

Published October 5, 2023

By Greg Childress

North Carolina’s new Parents’ Bill of Rights law gives the State Board of Education appellate responsibilities, but no power to enforce rulings it makes during parental concern hearings, State Board Attorney Allison Schafer confirmed Wednesday.

Schafer addressed questions about the parental hearings required by the new law during the state board’s monthly work session.

“The board can say, ‘yes, there was a violation,’ but they can’t do anything,” Schafer explained. “The state board cannot order a district to do anything specific. However, hopefully we will rarely get to that point.”

The state board must adopt procedures to hold hearing for parents who have concerns about select school-based rules and processes. The board reviewed draft procedures on Wednesday. It will be asked to approve them next month.

Under the controversial law, educators must 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 and makes provisions for parents to review schoolbooks.

Parents can take concerns to the state board if a concern has not been resolved by a local school district within 30 days. Parents must submit concerns to the state board in writing. Forms to do so will be available on the NC Department of Public Instruction’s website.

The required hearings will be scheduled by an appointed hearing officer unless a group of parents have filed the same complaint. The hearing officer must be an attorney with significant experience in health, education or administrative law, Schafer said.

“We’ll be recruiting from the attorney ranks to help with that as we go forward,” she said.

Most issues that warrant a state board hearing have to do with student health and safety and emotional and mental health, Schafer said. A parent can request a state board hearing, for example, if a district fails to adopt and implement policies to notify parents about health care services offered a child or provide a way for parents to give consent.

Parents may also request a hearing with the state board if a school district policy results in instruction about gender identity or sexual activity in kindergarten through fourth grade, which the law prohibits.

“We’re already getting requests to appeal like books in the library and things like that and that’s not in this list [of items that warrant a state board hearing],” Schafer said. “That’s something that you can have a process for at the local level that goes to the local board.”   

If a school-based policy prevents parents from accessing their child’s education or health records, parents may request a state board hearing unless there is concern that that doing so will subject the child to abuse, or if there is an investigation into an alleged crime committed by the parent against the child.

Parents may also request a state board hearing if they believe a school employee has encouraged a student to withhold information from parents about the child’s mental, emotional or physical well-being.

The Parents’ Bill of Rights legislation (Senate Bill 49) has been controversial. State Democrats see it as an attack on LGBTQ students and their parents. They worry that LGBTQ students with unsupportive parents could be harmed if they’re outed by school employees. Republicans, however, say they believe parents have a right to know such information, regardless of circumstances.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, but the GOP leadership mounted a successful override on Aug. 16.