Emotions ran high during Tuesday night’s Charlotte Mecklenburg School’s (CMS) Board of Education meeting as the board approved one new student health policy and modifications to three other policies in order to bring the district into compliance with newly passed anti-LGBTQ legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly.
The meeting’s consent agenda consisted of recommended policy and creation approvals to action items that align with the new state law, Senate Bill 49, deemed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” by its supporters.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the bill proved useless last week due to the Republicans’ supermajority in the General Assembly. Republicans voted to override the veto on Aug. 16.
Tuesday’s policy changes were presented at the policy committee’s special meeting on Friday, during which they were fast-tracked for the approval process in order to bring the board into compliance. All nine policies were approved during Tuesday’s board meeting.
The most notable policy modifications were those on reproductive education, supplementary instruction materials, expanded parental involvement, and a new student health policy.
The Comprehensive Health Education Program (CHEP) policy modification adjusted the policy that allowed parents to withhold consent from participation in reproductive health and safety education programs, aka sex ed, to now make it an opt-in policy where students are not allowed to participate in the class unless parental consent is given.
Public citizens, CMS teachers, psychotherapists and others spoke out against the policy change, voicing concerns with the potential negative outcomes of the wording and messaging used within.
Multiple speakers singled out one specific example in the policy that states teachers shall “Teach that a mutually faithful monogamous heterosexual relationship in the context of marriage is the best lifelong means of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”
Dr. Eli Branscome said the new policy’s wording rejects any queer identities and uses HIV/AIDS as a scare tactic against children.
Megan Hill, a CMS teacher, said that the opt-in policy will strip children of the knowledge to communicate things done to them without consent.
“If this opt-in only policy goes into effect it will result in the trauma and suffering of more children in our community than there already are,” said Hill.
President of the Mecklenburg County chapter of Moms for Liberty Brooke Weiss spoke out in support of the modifications. She stated the wording from the policy changes is copied and pasted from SB49. “If you vote against the changes, then you’re voting to not uphold the law.”
Weiss’s husband, Brian, also spoke at the meeting. Juanrique Hall, a candidate for CMS Board of Education, was seated next to Weiss in support.
The CHEP policy changes passed 7-2. Jennifer De La Jara (at-large) and Melissa Easley (District 1) voted against.
Numerous modifications to the district’s Selection of Library Media Center and Supplementary Instructional Materials policy (SLM) included allowing for parents to review textbooks, library books and supplementary instruction materials and object to materials deemed “educationally unsuitable, pervasively vulgar, or inappropriate to the age, maturity, or grade level of the students.”
“Literacy is very important,” said CMS parent Ashley Wiley in support of the policy. “But appropriate literacy is the key.”
Celia Kaul, a Montessori school student, expressed the importance of student exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences to foster a more accepting society. “Including everyone in no way hurts anyone.”
The SLM modifications passed 7-2. De La Jara and Easley voted against.
The revised Parent Involvement in Education (PRNT) policy lists new controls that parents will be granted over their children’s education. The policy grants parents the right to a medical or religious exemption from immunizations, to view records of their child’s borrowed school library materials, and to refuse participation in student information surveys, data collection and more.
Speakers voiced concerns that a viewable library record may restrict a child’s desire to learn and opting out of information surveys and data collection can reduce the amount of meaningful data on overall student well-being.
Cindy Decker, a CMS parent, said with the new law in place, CMS guardians can expect to feel more welcome, less intimidated, and less frustrated while having a stronger desire to support their children in school.
Amanda Thompson, another CMS parent, called the policy a false and politicized narrative pushed by extremist groups allowing parents and caretakers to become oppositionally defiant to the work educators are doing.
PRNT changes passed 7-2. De La Jara and Easley voted against.
Student Health (HLTH) was the only new policy of those brought in front of the board on Tuesday, and one of the most controversial.
The policy mandates educators to notify parents of any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel prior to the change along with a ban on the “instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality” in kindergarten through fourth grade.
HLTH also allows parents access to copies of any student well-being questionnaire or health screening form prior to its administration to students in kindergarten through third grade and the means for the parent to consent to the use of the questionnaire or form for their child.
De La Jara called the Student Health policy “the most egregious” of them all.
Although the policy allows students to initiate questions on sexual health and identity, Linda Traum, a retired social worker, questioned whether teachers will still feel comfortable responding to those discussions.
Weiss said she has already seen online posts of teachers maintaining their classrooms as safe spaces. “We know what that means,” she said. “We know that means that you are going to continue keeping secrets from parents, which they’re not allowed to do.”
Dr. Branscome suggested the policy be renamed to “Forced Outing,” a sentiment reflected by a group in the crowd holding “No Forced Outings” signs. The policy requires educators to encourage students to discuss issues related to “well-being” — a clear reference to sexual orientation, gender dysphoria and other concerns around identity — with their parents.
“It is not fair to ask me to be your police officer,” Greg Snead, an Olympic high school teacher, said to board members.
A majority of the speakers expressed concerns about LGBTQ+ youth’s higher vulnerability to depression and risk of suicide and the effect that the new policy will have on queer students’ health and well-being.
HLTH passed 6-3. De La Jara, Easley and Summer Nunn (District 6) voted against.
The Future of CMS
The vast majority of speakers at Tuesday’s meeting were opposed to the policies presented in order to bring Charlotte’s school districts in compliance with new state law — a law that many have pointed out may be in violation of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex and gender or sexual identity.
Seven of the nine board members voiced their concerns about the policies and expressed their objections to SB49. Thelma Byers-Bailey (District 2) and Lisa Cline (District 5) were the only members who did not share their opinions.
Most board members expressed a helplessness with having to approve policies they disagree with just to bring the district in compliance with the law.
“I have voted for every single one of these motions … even though I am concerned about the harm that it might cause to students and the extra burden it places upon our teachers,” said Elyse Dashew, chair of the CMS Board of Education. “And yet I’m more concerned about the harm that could come to the district if we defy the law.”
The board ended the meeting by reassuring their confidence in the superintendent and school educators’ ability to continue providing safe and affirming spaces for students within the confines of the law.
SUPPORT OUR WORK: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.