Asheville school board considers policy changes to comply with state Parents’ Bill of Rights

LIMIT HARM: Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality and Buncombe County commissioner, asks the Asheville City Board of Education to hold off on passing policies to comply with Senate Bill 49 because she said those policies could cause undue harm to LGBTQ+ students. Beach-Ferrara argued the new state law contradicts federal Title IX law. Photo by Greg Parlier

The Asheville City Board of Education is grappling with how to follow a new state law that dictates how districts can approach LGBTQ+ issues.

Representatives from the Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, asked board members at their Oct. 9 meeting to hold off on changing policies related to the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights while legal experts analyze how districts should implement the law. According to CSE, adhering to Senate Bill 49 could conflict with Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of gender.

“This law was rushed to passage without thorough analysis,” said Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of CSE, Buncombe County commissioner and ACS parent. “Now, before it is allowed to harm youth in our community any further, we want the state to show its work and address the pressing legal question of how SB 49 intersects with Title IX and whether it violates federal law. We ask you, our local board, which has been put in an incredibly difficult position by these political circumstances, to allow this process to unfold.”

Proponents say SB 49 safeguards parents’ role in their children’s education, while opponents argue that it creates an unsafe atmosphere for some students — especially those who identify as LGBTQ+ — because it bans material related to gender expression, identity and sexuality.

After the CSE issued a memo arguing that the bill contradicts Title IX, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction indicated it will issue findings and analysis on that question, Beach-Ferrara said. No timeline was provided, she added.

Meanwhile, school districts have until at least Dec. 15 to have policies in place, meaning the board has two more scheduled meetings ahead of the deadline, said Chris Campbell, attorney for the Asheville City school board.

The board reviewed proposed changes to seven policies at its work session Oct. 2 and heard public comment on the policies Oct. 9, on first reading of the changes.

One addition in policy No.  3540 regarding comprehensive health education programs reads: “Instruction on gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality will not be included in the health education program in kindergarten through fourth grade.”

Policy 7300 regarding staff responsibilities would require all school employees, including teachers, bus drivers and custodial staff, to “support parents in effectively participating in their child’s education and never encourage or coerce a child to withhold information from a parent.”

Other changes were proposed for policies related to surveys of students, criminal behavior, parental inspection of and objection to instructional materials, student health services and parental involvement in order to comply with the new law, which passed the General Assembly in August.

The law also requires that parents be notified before a student’s name or pronouns are changed in school records by teachers or staff.

Policy amendments created to comply with the law are creating hostile learning environments for LGBTQ+ students, a violation of Title IX, said Craig White, supportive schools director for CSE.

“When there’s government surveillance of every book that a child checks out of the library, that’s a hostile environment. When every adult in the school is required to police every student to make sure that they’re using the name and the pronouns on their birth certificate, that’s a hostile environment. When only stories about straight and cisgender families can be read aloud in a kindergarten class, and the little girl with two moms or two dads is told the stories about her family are banned by the state, that’s a hostile environment. When teachers all the way through high school are already stripping any mention of LGBTQ people or issues from the curriculum because they’re afraid of being targeted by hate groups, that’s a hostile environment,” White argued.

After public comment, Campbell said a “large portion” of what is in SB 49 was already in existing law, and the proposed policy changes come from the N.C. School Boards Association.

“There would not be a reason to reject this law wholesale,” Campbell argued. He instead recommended the board study exactly what the law requires teachers and administrators to do and take on specific requirements with which the board disagrees.

School board Vice Chair Amy Ray asked Campbell what the board should do if state law contradicts a federal law like Title IX, and if the board might need outside counsel if it chooses not to follow the state law.

“Our first job is not to cause harm to this district. And the challenge becomes when a state law requires us to harm our children. What does that mean? What is that duty?” she asked.

Campbell said he needs to take a closer look at CSE’s memo and exactly what SB 49 requires teachers and administrators to do. If there are requirements that the board objects to, he said it could take the stand that a federal law like Title IX preempts state law as justification for not complying with the contradictory state law.

The board decided to take a deeper dive into the proposed policy changes at the Monday, Nov. 6 work session, including potentially receiving further legal advice from Campbell during a closed session after he studies the matter further.

Consolidation study

Asheville City’s board joined the Buncombe County Board of Education in unanimously approving a consolidation study as required by language added to the state budget last month. Buncombe County government will solicit and pay for proposals from third-party contractors to study the feasibility of a merger of the county’s two school districts and report findings back to the districts.

The state gave the districts until February 2025 to report their findings.



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2 thoughts on “Asheville school board considers policy changes to comply with state Parents’ Bill of Rights

  1. Keith

    Sen. Warren Daniels R-Morganton needs to quit his relentless assault on Buncombe County school students, families, teachers and staff.


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