Buncombe schools passes new Parents’ Bill of Rights policies

IN HARMONY: The A.C. Reynolds High School Madrigal Singers earned a standing ovation for their performance at the Buncombe County Board of Education meeting Dec. 7. It was the last time the crowd was in agreement during the contentious meeting, which included two hours of public comment. Photo by Greg Parlier

There were tears and cheers. There was yelling and applause. A full emotional spectrum was on display during nearly two hours of public comment at the Buncombe County Board of Education on Dec. 7. More than 30 speakers expressed strong opinions both for and against policy updates to comply with the state’s recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights.

Ultimately, the board unanimously passed the seven policies related to Senate Bill 49, which opponents say creates an unsafe atmosphere for LGBTQ+ students, and supporters argue safeguards parents’ roles in their children’s education. After collecting a month’s worth of feedback from parents, teachers and community members, board member Rob Elliot said the board did its best to mirror the community’s wishes in the policies while still following state law.

“There is a lot of fear and concern from our community on different sides of the spectrum. How do we balance that? We did our very best to do that. We know no one’s going to leave here tonight perfectly satisfied, but I do feel very confident and appreciative of our staff and community that helped us navigate this in a way that allows us to provide an educational experience that is safe and allows each and every child that comes into our school to reach their full potential.”

During public comment, Craig White, the supportive schools director for the Campaign for Southern Equality, thanked the school board for listening to public concerns about the law from advocates for the LGBTQ+ community. Many of the amendments made to “mitigate the harms of SB 49” were specifically criticized by those on the other side of the debate at the Dec. 7 meeting, he said.

“Every edit that you put in there to try to keep LGBTQ students just a little bit safer — they have called those out tonight. That’s what we live with — that scrutiny. That constant scrutiny, that constant fear of attack, that somebody is going to see us being ourselves and say, ‘That’s not OK. That needs to be stopped,’” he said.

About half the public speakers argued that the proposed policies did not go far enough in implementing the new state law, even arguing the district may be breaking the law with its interpretation of it.

“The Parents’ Bill of Rights protects the rights of parents to direct the care and education of their children. It’s also to protect the rights and direct the children’s upbringing, moral and religious training. Schools may partner with parents in a child’s education, but schools are not ultimately in charge,” said Kay Olsen.

She argued that opposition to the law comes from a vocal minority who don’t represent the majority of parents and voters in Buncombe County.

One of the repeated concerns was whether the policies allowed information to be withheld from parents, including about a child’s gender identity.

Staci Metcalf said the district’s policy 1310, parental involvement, is not compliant with SB 49 because it says school personnel should balance a student’s request for privacy about their gender identity with state and federal law, rather than mandating that information be shared with parents.

“Parents may agree or disagree with their child’s choice, and that is their right. Parents — not school personnel — are directors of their children’s care and their moral training. To fulfill their legal and moral responsibility, parents need to know what’s going on with their child so that they can help their child appropriately,” she said.

“Nothing good comes out of lies, and nothing good comes from secrets. Evil lies in that darkness. This noncompliant verbiage to parents conveys that Buncombe County Public Schools have the right to withhold information from parents, and in effect, lie to them.”

After the meeting, Dean Shatley, school board attorney, told Xpress that he was “highly confident” that the district’s new policies follow the law, and the way some public commenters were arguing against some policies suggested to him that they haven’t read the policies in their entirety.

Some of the language added in the last month, like in the parental involvement policy, was to ensure students understand the school’s requirements in making information available to their parents, not to withhold that information, Shatley said.

The other policies related to the bill are parental inspection of and objection to instructional materials, comprehensive health education program, criminal behavior, surveys of students, student health services and staff responsibilities.

Several members of the LGBTQ+ community, including current BCS students, shared personal anecdotes about a lack of trust they felt with school personnel, leading to mental health issues, depression or brushes with suicide.

One speaker detailed a specific moment they had as a teenager on a school bathroom floor with a razor because they felt so alone and unsupported.

Doug Brown, chair of the Buncombe County GOP, argued an incident like that was what SB 49 was all about, helping parents understand what was going on with their children.

“If you were that student’s parent, wouldn’t you want to know what was going on?”

During his comments, White retorted against those who argued for policies that would increase transparency between parents and teachers about their children.

“I agree with trust and transparency between schools and families, between families and children, between schools and children. But if I want to know what books my kid is reading, then I ask my kid,” he said.

Board reviews options for new district maps

In a special work session Dec. 7, board members heard three options for redrawing district maps for the 2024 election after a state law singling out BCS required the system to redistrict.

House Bill 142 requires the board to redraw its six districts based on an evenly distributed population rather than on the district’s high school attendance zones, as has been done since 1975.

Currently, Buncombe elects one school board member to represent each of the county’s six attendance zones — Enka, Erwin, Owen, North Buncombe, Reynolds and Roberson — and one at-large member. Candidates must live in the district they represent and run on a nonpartisan basis. Residents can vote for all school board representatives, regardless of their address.

Based on the new law, voters who live in the newly drawn districts will vote only for the representative running in the district in which they live. The law doesn’t change where students will go to school, only school board representation.

Adam Mitchell of Tharrington Smith LLC and Blake Esselstyn of Mapfigure Consulting brought three options to the board members, who were unanimous in their frustration with the fact they were doing it at all.

“I’ve been dealing with this issue for over two years now,” said Vice Chair Amy Churchill. “I find it very interesting that everything I was concerned about and everything the people fighting against this at the state level were concerned about is now coming to fruition.”

Board member Amanda Simpkins was concerned that the new maps will change the identity of certain districts, especially for A.C. Reynolds High School which would undergo the most change as depicted in each of the proposed maps.

“The reality is there’s not a great solution. Initially when the bill was pushed forward, a lot of people thought this would give their district more identity as a voter. That is not what is happening,” she said. “It’s just sad to me.”



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6 thoughts on “Buncombe schools passes new Parents’ Bill of Rights policies

  1. WNC

    “balance a student’s request for privacy about their gender identity with state and federal law “

    It takes a lot of hours work for an attorney to make a statement that is unclear.
    Easy to see why the exodus from public education continues.

    Hopefully we will see some major universities reigned in or just go out of business. After they let reality slip out of their mouth regarding anti-semitism this week. Students pay /borrow massive amounts of money to attend these schools where antisemitism and anti Christian and anti American policy is taught. To top that off President Biden wants working American’s to forgive and pay the tuition of students of the Ivy League schools (it’s not limited to Ivy League schools)

    • Lou

      You do not know what you’re talking about. Freedom of religion is freedom FROM religion too. I am so sick and tired of you bible thumpers demanding to retain all these rights that you never should have had in the first place. Also, it is NOT antisemetic to object to the deliberate extermination of human beings in Gaza. You know, the ones Isreal refers to as vermin? You want to pray and talk about sky daddy? GO TO CHURCH. Hopefully there won’t be a trumphumping maniac with an automatic weapon waiting for you there.

      • Phillip Williams

        The United States Constitution does not guarantee freedom “from” religion. The only prohibition on religion in the Constitution applies to what the government may or may not do. The government cannot establish or favor any religion over another – but nobody has a “right” to have his/her sensibilities protected from disagreement or offense. Some in government seem to have taken upon themselves the role of protector of everyone’s feelings.

  2. Keith

    Right wing, Klanned Karenhood political attacks on our local, public school students, families, teachers, administration, and elected school board members are growing.

  3. Voirdire

    The Maga “folk” want their children to be indoctrinated non-thinkers… just like them. The woke “folk” want the same basically …coming from the other end of the spectrum of course. Extremists and revisionists… sigh. One thing is for sure, our public school system is on its last legs …as is our fragile and faltering democratic experiment …just the way they want it.

  4. ohiogurl

    There is nothing “homegrown” about these organized attempts to tailor public education to serve a minority of parents and a narrow view of what constitutes “moral” teaching. They don’t want schools to “partner” with them. They want schools to serve as enforcers of their own biases. Teachers and school administrators are not the enemy. They are doing their best to deliver an education to diverse students under pressure from all sides. I want my children to be exposed to diverse points of view, to raise thoughtful, compassionate, and empathetic children. Parents should parent their own children, and leave the rest alone.


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